By Zach Patberg
“She was a very old lady,” said the wife, Maria Otalvaro. “She should never have been living there by herself.””She was supposed to have somebody, but she said she didn't want it,” said the husband, Oscar Otalvaro. “Everybody in the building was talking about this.”The victim, Nancy Graves, died shortly after being taken to New York Hospital Queens on Jan. 4, authorities said. She had been inside her apartment at 67-01 Kissena Blvd. on the third floor when the fire started around 3:20 p.m., according to fire officials. Witnesses said Graves was conscious when paramedics took her downstairs but that police told them she later died of smoke inhalation. A fire spokesman said the cause of death was unclear.To Oscar Otalvaro and his family, who lived next door to Graves for 13 years, one thing was clear, however: This had happened before.Two months ago, he said, firefighters broke Graves's door in and escorted her out as hoses put out a minor blaze. On another day around the same time, an ambulance was called when Graves tripped over her cat and fell.Oscar Otalvaro's son, Nelson, said the frail woman could not walk without the support of a wall or somebody's shoulder. And she was a heavy smoker, the Otalvaro family said, a likely trigger for the first fire and possibly for the second one that killed her. Fire marshals had not released the cause of the fire as of Tuesday.”I was asleep and woke up because I smelled smoke,” Nelson said of last week's blaze, the stench of which had not yet left the hallways of the Pomonok building the next day. “Mom thought it was the kitchen at first.”When his father, Oscar Otalvaro, saw smoke coming from under his door, he opened it. There he saw firefighters once again breaking down Graves' door and smashing out her windows.”It was like the same thing all over again,” he said.The Otalvaros said the woman, who they described as very friendly but slightly eccentric, had lived alone for as many as 40 years, although a grandson would come to visit now and then. Nelson said he would often carry her grocery cart up the three flights of stairs and make sure her door was locked tight behind her, but on the whole, Graves refused acts of charity. No relatives could be reached for comment.”We offered to help and neighbors did, too, but she never wanted it,” the 15-year-old said. “Everybody feels bad about what happened. She was everybody's neighbor.”Reach reporter Zach Patberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.