Two operators of a Toms River group home pleaded guilty Thursday in connection with an August 2009 fatal fire at the facility.
James and Donna Beerman, operators of Bright New Horizons, pleaded guilty before state Superior Court Judge Francis Hodgson and acknowledged they failed to properly equip the facility with the appropriate fire safety equipment.
James Beerman is facing five years in prison, while Donna Beerman is facing a probationary term when they are sentenced on Feb. 1.
Frank Klekner, a resident, died after he suffered smoke inhalation and was forced to jump from his second story bedroom window during the fire.
The group home, located at 1436 Lakewood Rd. in Toms River, was originally licensed to house no more than five people, according to the Ocean County Prosecutors Office.
The Beermans, who had operated similar homes in Long Branch and Lakewood, were aware that placing six or more residents in the home would require that a change of use application be filed with Toms River, officials said.
The change of use application would have triggered the installation of fire safety equipment, such as sprinklers, emergency lights, fire doors, and audible fire alarms, and an inspection of the property, according to the prosecutors office.
The Beermans had as many as 16 people living in the single family ranch in Toms River before the fire, officials said.
The fire, which occurred Aug. 5 2009, started accidentally. It was caused by improperly discarded smoking materials, the prosecutors office said. It destroyed the single family home.
Klekner, overcome by the smoke, was the only occupant who was unable to escape the fire. Many of the residents suffered smoke inhalation and other injuries while fleeing the burning structure.