BOSTON (CBS) – Just weeks before her college graduation, Binland Lee’s apartment went up in flames. She was living on the top floor in a makeshift room that did not have a proper exit. Lee was unable to escape the smoke and flames. She died early in the morning on April 28, 2013, and a part of her mother died with her.
“My heart is broken on that day,” says mother Xu Mei Kwong. “I am upset every day, I don’t want to see people.”
The question of whether or not students are safer today remains. Lee’s house has been rebuilt and one resident says the exits are up to code, but that is just this house.
The I-Team wanted to know what changes have been made to make sure all off-campus housing is safe. Albert Farrah, the attorney representing Lee’s family in a civil suit, is not convinced.
“I don’t have a sense that all that much in the way of lessons have been learned,” Farrah says. “The fire alarm system was inadequate and the second means of egress didn’t exist.”
Unable to file charges, a civil suit is the family’s only recourse.
“We just could not, in fairness, bring charges,” says Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley.
Conley says cases involving old housing and crowded conditions don’t meet the threshold for manslaughter. He supports a bill to create a criminal negligence statute. The technical rule in Boston is only four undergraduates in an apartment, however this is a rule that is not usually followed.
Former Boston City Councilor Mike Ross knows that overcrowding is another concern. Ross wrote the “No More Than Four” regulation in 2008, but to his knowledge no citations have ever been issued. He’s now working with the city’s Inspectional Services Department on a ticket and fine system he hopes will be enforced.
“Because today, in order to assess that on someone, you have to take them to court and it’s just very cumbersome,” says Ross.
Xu Mei cherishes the memories of her only daughter because they are all she has left.
Her attorney Raymond Wong explains, “She doesn’t want other parents to experience the same thing that she experienced.”
Xu Mei hopes Boston will one day be a city safe for all students.