Untreated heart condition kills Whitestone firefighter

By Ayala Ben-Yehuda

Firefighter Peter LaPlace, 38, of Whitestone died in his family's home of an aortic rupture, said Michelle LaPlace, his wife. He left behind four children ranging in age from 3 to 11 years.

She said her husband went to Jamaica Hospital with chest pains the Sunday night before his death. But the hospital sent him home saying “nothing was wrong with his heart,” she said.

“He was slowly dying those last few days and none of us had any idea,” Michelle LaPlace said. .

An attorney and family spokesman said the LaPlaces were reviewing the firefighter's medical records and considering “various legal options, including the possibility of a lawsuit.”

Jamaica Hospital spokesman Michael Hink said Peter LaPlace was admitted shortly after midnight March 1 and discharged the following evening.

“The hospital cannot respond or get into any specifics about any care provided,” said Hink, citing medical privacy laws. “The hospital is aware of the situation and aware of his passing. We are conducting an investigation.”

A Fire Department spokesman said Peter LaPlace had served with Ladder 119 in Brooklyn for 5 1/2 years. Before joining the Fire Department, LaPlace had been a special education teacher at MS 206 in the Bronx.

LaPlace's wife said being a firefighter was “a longtime aspiration of his.”

“It was Peter's nature,” she said. “He always wanted to help people.”

LaPlace and his wife were driving on I-95 in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 11, 2001 when they saw a plane hit the Pentagon, his wife said. The firefighter immediately raced to the scene of the Pentagon attack to help out and was at Ground Zero the very next day, she said.

“He loved the brotherhood and the camaraderie,” LaPlace said about his experience in the Fire Department.

Her husband also worked at the Crazy Moose Saloon, a popular bar on Bell Boulevard in Bayside, for about 12 years. Friend Larry Mandt called him “the funniest, most charismatic guy you would ever want to meet” at the firefighter's packed wake Monday night at the Gleason Funeral Home in Whitestone.

“He always had a wig on or a mask when he was bartending,” recalled friend John Marzano.

A lifelong Whitestone resident, LaPlace attended PS 79, JHS 194 and the Fordham Preparatory School.

His friend Sonny Panico said “whenever Pete would walk into a room, it would light up. He made everyone around him feel good.”

“I remember how ecstatic he was about becoming a fireman,” said Panico, a retired firefighter.

Retired boxer Freddy Liberatore, who met LaPlace six years ago at the Police Athletic League boxing gym in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, said he trained LaPlace for the Golden Gloves amateur competition.

“He was always talking about his family and his kids,” Liberatore said. “He was always happy, uplifting.”

Friend Chris Toriello, who had Jets season tickets with the firefighter, called him a great father.

“We're keeping his ticket for one of his kids.”

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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