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Landlord may face civil charges in death

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet Staff
Thursday November 30, 2000

Already facing criminal charges for allegedly transporting immigrants to the United States for cheap labor and sex, Lakireddy Bali Reddy now faces civil charges in the wrongful death of Chanti Jyotsna Devi Prattipati. 

The suit was filed in Alameda County Superior Court Monday on behalf of Prattipati’s parents and sister. 

The 17-year-old Indian immigrant died Nov. 24, 1999 from carbon monoxide poisoning in an apartment at 2020 Bancroft Way owned by L.B. Reddy Real Estate Company. 

“...the causes of her death were exposure to fumes from a dangerous, defective, and negligently-maintained gas heating system at 2020 Bancroft Way and the failure of defendant Lakireddy Bali Reddy to secure prompt medical attention for her after such exposure,” according to the suit. 

The lawsuit not only names Reddy and his company, but it also names the former owner of the building at 2020 Bancroft Way, William B. Ross and others, as well as the company that installed a new roof on the apartment building, Caldwell-Roland Roofing, Inc. located on Fourth Street. 

Police determined that Prattipati succumbed to carbon monoxide fumes emitted from a faulty heater. They said a vent had been blocked when roofing work was done on the building.  

“The contractor failed to exercise ordinary care in performing such work and said negligence by the contractor resulted in a dangerous and defective heating system which caused the injuries and death alleged herein,” the suit says. 

The previous owners of the building sold it to Reddy during the summer of 1999. They had the roof repair work done at the beginning of 1999, the suit says, contending that the former owners should have known about the problems and disclosed them to the new owner.  

Blaming the former owners, however, does not absolve Reddy, according to the suit. 

“The current owners had a duty to maintain the apartment safe condition and good repair....(They) had a duty to disclose any dangerous and unsafe (the building’s) occupants.” 

The suit also alleges that Prattipati’s sister, “Jane Roe I,” suffered from the carbon monoxide poisoning and was “seriously injured in her health, strength, and activity.” 

The suit alleges that Reddy further failed to seek proper medical attention for the two teenagers. 

In the criminal suit, U.S. Attorney John Kennedy alleged that one of Prattipati’s roommates found her and called Pasand Restaurant, which is owned by Reddy.  

“Rather than calling police, they called Pasand,” he said during a hearing on the case in January. Kennedy said witnesses told police they saw a body being carried out of a side entrance to the apartment, going toward a van carrying Reddy Realty identification in the rear window. 

A passing motorist called police. “A man described as the defendant said to the motorist, ‘This is none of your business,’” Kennedy told the court at the time. 

Meera Trehan, one of the lawyers representing Prattipati’s parents, declined to comment on the suit.  

“Currently we are in settlement negotiations on other claims,” she said, explaining that the suit was filed Nov. 27 to meet the one-year statute of limitations on wrongful death suits. 

Asked why the suit did not speak to the questions of sexual abuse – alleged in the criminal case – and the wrongful death of the fetus which Prattipati carried, Trehan responded that the contentions in the suit “are not the only claims.” 

The suit asks for an unnamed amount of compensation and attorneys’ fees. 

Calls to Reddy’s attorney Ted Cassman of Emeryville and to the roofing company were not returned.