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Owner of Sylmar home where family died is distraught, lawyer says

Laws and LegislationCrime, Law and Justice

The owner of a Sylmar property where a fire killed a family of four Monday is "very distraught" over the tragedy, her attorney said.

Firefighters were called to the converted, metal-clad barn in the 13700 block of Eldridge Avenue about 4:30 a.m. After kicking down the door of the two-story structure, firefighters found the father a few feet from the front door, his wife and two young children huddled together nearby. All four were unresponsive, and were pronounced dead after being taken to hospitals.

The victims were identified as Uriel Estrada, 41; his wife, Maria Estrada, 40; and their children, Isabel, 12, and Alejandro, 7.

Brian Weinberger, an attorney for property owner Leonarda Aguilar, said his client is "very distraught over this tragic occurrence" and is fully cooperating with arson investigators. Los Angeles Fire Capt. Jaime E. Moore said the woman was teary-eyed and emotional as she walked through the property with investigators Monday afternoon.

Aguilar disputes claims by firefighters that there were no smoke detectors installed inside the structure. Weinberger said Aguilar had had smoke detectors at the property "all along."

Before the Estrada family moved in about six weeks ago, Weinberger said, the converted barn's interior got a fresh coat of paint and new smoke detectors "were provided."

He would not say whether the smoke detectors were installed by the property owners or a manager. It was also unclear whether carbon monoxide detectors had been installed, as is also required by state law.

He added that Aguilar had not made "any changes of a serious nature" to structures on the property since she purchased it, which was in 2007, according to property records.

"When they purchased the property they were under the impression that everything was to code," Weinberger said.

Moore said the residence included a dining area, kitchen, bathroom and three bedrooms.

While city records indicate that Aguilar was authorized to convert the barn into living space, Luke Zamperini, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, said the property's permits do not allow for it to include a kitchen or be used as permanent residential housing.

The property has a history of code violations. In 2008, city inspectors paid several visits after discovering a large number of commercial vehicles parked behind the main residence.

Later that year, inspectors found that a large, warehouse-like building had been built next to the barn without approval and ordered Aguilar to demolish it or obtain the required permits.

That order has not been complied with, Zamperini said.

Fire investigators are continuing to work with city officials to determine whether any other code violations occurred at the converted barn, including possible additions to the residence.

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