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Culkin Mother Ordered to Trial

February 8, 2002 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ A Manhattan judge says the mother of actor Macaulay Culkin must go to trial to defend herself against lawsuits filed after a fire that started in her apartment damaged property and killed four people.

State Supreme Court Justice Paula Omansky, in a ruling made public Thursday that applies to eight lawsuits, refused to dismiss the cases against Culkin’s mother, Patricia Bentrup, and the 51-story building’s managers and owners.

The lawsuits seek hundreds of millions of dollars for wrongful death, personal injuries and property damage caused by a December 1998 fire in one of the three 19th-floor apartments where Bentrup and six of her seven children lived.

Her son, Macaulay, star of the ``Home Alone″ movies, was not there.

Fire officials said the fire was ignited by a short circuit in a wire in a wall-mounted heater. They also said that the door to the apartment in which the fire started had been propped open, allowing air to feed the blaze.

The heat and smoke that filled the building killed four people, including Wanda Chappell, 40, a Random House editor who oversaw the publication of biographies by Secretary of State Colin Powell and actor Christopher Reeve.

In her motion to dismiss, Bentrup admitted that she often propped the doors open. The judge said a jury should decide whether Bentrup should be held responsible for the resulting spread of the fire.

In refusing to dismiss the lawsuit filed against Park South Tower Associates, the managers and owners, Omansky said, ``Abundant evidence supports a finding that Park South was aware of Bentrup’s long-standing practice of propping open the fire-rated doors to her apartments.″

The judge granted the motion to dismiss the case against the building’s construction manager, Lehrer McGovern Bovis. She accepted the argument that it had no role in the design of the building or its ventilation system.

Lawyers and spokespeople in the case did not return calls for comment.