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Group Home Operators Admit Guilt In 2009 Fatal Fire

James and Donna Beerman, operators of Bright New Horizons, pleaded guilty before state Superior Court Judge Francis Hodgson on Thursday

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. 

WMS826 December 07, 2012 at 01:29 AM
Where were the "inspectors" each year and why are they not in prison for allowing this to continue. These people are wrong themselves, however we pay for inspectors to prevent this and fine operators like Beerman.
cw1234 December 07, 2012 at 03:25 AM
Did you read the article? It explains why there was no inspections.
Junior December 07, 2012 at 04:28 AM
Shouldn't a town be checking periodically how many people live in a house or appt. in the town. Isn't there ordinances in place on how many can live in a dwelling. I think towns need to be on top on this more. Why even have ordinances? If no one is going to do anything about them. Towns need to start having employees work on this during their slow periods instead of looking the other way.
Captain Ed December 07, 2012 at 11:14 AM
How would you go about inspecting homes for the number of occupants that do not require inspections ? One by one knock on doors and do every one in town. This home was not registered correctly and did not require it either. Nobody's fault but the owners.
PJ Ortley December 07, 2012 at 02:43 PM
Its was a group home rental - and these landlords had more than one. The State knows who they are and should enforce safety laws. And where were the neighbors? 16 people in a house licensed for 5 should not go u-noticed.
FormerLaceyGirl December 07, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Don't usually comment on these things, but why is always someone else's fault when people choose to break the law? Why isn't anyone responsible for themselves anymore?
Mike S. December 07, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Why does this article omit the fact that Jimmy and Donna were also both indicted for possesion of drugs and Jimmy had possession of a weapon also ? These charges came after the fire and should be considered on why they were packing 16 people into a house that had an occupancy of 5. Makes sense, pack 16 recovering addicts into a house illegally, then use all that money to support your own habit. And offer them 5 years and probation ??? WOW
Bryan December 07, 2012 at 09:45 PM
As far as neighbors,the house was set back off the road surrounded by trees and easy to not see activity of people without cars. How they approved this across from a bar and liquor store is beyond me.
WMS826 December 08, 2012 at 01:43 AM
Why is the home not inspected! Any commercial structure gets inspected once a year I believe. Even though it is not a high occupancy structure it still should be inspected as a coomercial building I would assume. then you would know what was occuring in there.
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kenny January 23, 2013 at 04:21 AM
The Beermans also owned and operated several homes in neptune nj, packed with 12 to 16 addicts. Packed them like rats, took their money. If someone complained, they were tossed out into the street by some jail house bouncer. They ran the home without regard for anyone, just collected the cash. A few years ago one of the homes on highway 35 in Neptune caught on fire.
kenny January 23, 2013 at 04:24 AM
A guy named Drew was their partner in Neptune, NJ he is still operating the same dumps in asbury park and neptune

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