Astoria fire kills pizzeria owner

Firefighters remove a piece of the roof at an Astoria home so that they can reach a remaining pocket of fire. According to police, George Samaritis, 66, died in the blaze. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rebecca Henely and Christina Santucci 

A fire in an Astoria house claimed the life of a 66-year-old pizzeria owner and left his daughter hanging from a window before she was rescued by her brother, officials and an eyewitness said.

George Samaritis, who lived on 31st Road near 14th Street in Astoria, died in a fire that began inside his home, police said. The cause of the fire was not known as of last Thursday afternoon, the Fire Department said.

At the scene, a woman whom neighbors identified as Samaritis’ wife, Zambia, knelt down and clutched the fence in front of the family’s scorched home. She began wailing as someone tried to comfort her, then went over to the front of the doorway, ripped off a piece of the door frame and hit the house with it. Police came over to console her and the officers coaxed the distressed woman back onto the sidewalk.

Samaritis was pronounced DOA at the hospital, police said.

Zambia and George Samaritis own Samaria’s Pizzeria on 21st Street and Broadway.

Observers of the blaze described the scene as mayhem. Charles Intravaia, 44, who lives several blocks away, said he saw lots of smoke rising from the home.

“I saw it from the roof,” he said. “I heard sirens and thought, ‘It sounds very close to me,’ so I went to the roof.”

Alex Di Stasia, 22, who was walking along 31st Road at the time of the fire, said at first he only saw smoke and he had believed it was a cooking mishap. Then he saw a young woman on the second floor.

“She was looking out the window, looking very concerned,” Di Stasia said.

Soon after, a young man with an injury on his face ran out from the alleyway alongside the home. Di Stasia and the young man both called to the woman, who Di Stasia realized was trapped, and yelled that she would have to come out through the window.

“She hung out the window and was hanging there, at which point you could touch her ankles and then she dropped down and the guy had her in his arms,” Di Stasia said.

As soon as she was on the ground, she yelled that her father was still inside.

Emergency dispatchers received a 911 call for the fire at approximately 11:59 a.m. When firefighters arrived, they found Samaritis inside the home unconscious and unresponsive, police said.

Di Stasia said the paramedics brought Samaritis out of the house on a stretcher.

“They were doing CPR on him on the sidewalk,” he said.

The Fire Department said it had the fire under control by 12:51 p.m.

A spokesman for the Fire Department said Samaritis was brought to Mt. Sinai Hospital in Astoria, as were two civilians and two firefighters.

Police said the civilians were a 23-year-old woman with a sprained ankle, whom neighbors say was Samaritis’ daughter, and a 30-year-old man who had a minor burn on his face.

Police do not suspect criminality and said the investigation was ongoing.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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