Massive NYPD warehouse fire destroys DNA evidence, puts cases at risk
Once the fire is under control, police property specialists will go inside and see what has been destroyed and what can be salvaged
By Thomas Tracy
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — A massive fire tore through in an NYPD warehouse in Brooklyn Tuesday, destroying DNA evidence and potentially endangering multiple criminal cases, NYPD and FDNY officials said.
The blaze broke out at the Erie Basin Auto Pound on Columbia St. in Red Hook about 10:30 a.m., authorities said. The flames may have been sparked by an ion-lithium battery that was being stored at the impound yard on the property, according to a preliminary investigation, fire department sources said.
Fourteen NYPD employees and six contractors were working in the warehouse when one of the contractors saw smoke coming from a “high shelf,” said NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey.
“Everybody backed out and the fire department was alerted,” Maddrey said.
The building stores “biological evidence” — clothing and other items that were tested for DNA, Maddrey said, adding that there were no rape kits kept at the site.
“There was a substantial amount of motor bikes, e-bikes, a few vehicles,” Maddrey explained. “Some of the evidence goes back a long time, 20 to 30 years. There was also some property from Hurricane Sandy in there. We won’t know the magnitude of what was destroyed until we get an itemized invoice and see what was in there.”
Hurricane Sandy destroyed 5,000 55 gallon cardboard drums filled with DNA evidence when the ground floor of the facility was flooded by the storm surge, police said. The NYPD uses the auto pound to hold all the illegal dirt bikes and ATVs cops seize from city streets. Vehicles that are evidence in criminal investigations, such as cars that victims were shot inside, are kept there as well.
Possibly lost to the fire is the patrol car Police Officer Edward Byrne was assassinated in while guarding a witness in Queens in 1988 and the mobile command post the Police Officer Miosotis Familia was sitting in when she was fatally ambushed in the Bronx in 2017, police said.
Plumes of white smoke, that could be seen from Manhattan, filled the air across Brooklyn as the fire raged on Tuesday afternoon.
“This fire is probably going to go on for a few days before we are able to fully extinguish it and get inside to the deep seeded areas,” FDNY Chief of Department John Hodgens said.
Three firefighters, three EMS members and two civilians suffered minor injuries, authorities said.
The flames were so fierce that a section of the warehouse collapsed, Hodgens said.
“Our firefighters attempted an interior fire attack, but our members were overwhelmed by the flames and we had to back our firefighters out of the building,” Hodgens said.
Three FDNY fireboats were dispatched to put out the waterfront blaze. The FDNY was also flying drones overhead to help firefighters pinpoint where to aim their water cannons.
“We’re shooting water at the outside of the building,” Hodgens said. “There are not a lot of openings in this building so we’re not able to get the fire inside. It’s a difficult operation and will take time.
“I would estimate that most of the contents (inside) are damaged by the amount of fire in there,” he added.
An exact cause for the fire has not been determined.
In June, Mayor Eric Adams and Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell went to the auto pound to watch 100 seized vehicles get crushed into scrap metal and warn people against using illegal ATVs and dirt bikes.