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A Queens construction-safety inspector entangled in a $20 million sex-harassment lawsuit died in an inferno at her home today, authorities said. The massive early-morning fire, which tore through Bianca Wisniewski's fifth-floor apartment at the Pomonok Houses in Kew Gardens Hills, left her 16-year-old daughter and two other men in critical condition. Wisniewski - who was due in federal court tomorrow for a hearing in her case - grabbed headlines in July when she slapped JPMorgan Chase and her employer, Total Safety Consulting, with the bombshell lawsuit alleging conduct that was "more befitting of Afghanistan's Taliban than 21st-century America."
Wisniewski - a 44-year-old mom of two and rare female presence in a male-dominated industry - claimed she was subjected to lewd come-ons by elevator operator Steve Greco at the Park Avenue site of the bank's headquarters. When she complained, she was canned and replaced with a man, says the suit, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court. "She was a lovely woman. I can't believe it," her lawyer, Steven Wittels, said after learning of her death. Firefighters arrived at Wisniewski's seven-story building in the public-housing project on 71st Avenue and Parsons Boulevard just six minutes after a resident called 911 at 3:10 a.m. More than 100 Bravest battled the blaze, which started in Wisniewski's living room, for about 50 minutes before they were able to bring it under control.
Officials said the fire did not appear suspicious and were leaning toward an overloaded outlet as the cause, sources said. The apartment had a working smoke detector when it was inspected in July, sources said, although the device had apparently been dismantled by an occupant at some point and left on a table. Demetric Bowman, 32, a neighbor, said her own smoke detector went off at 11 p.m., but she didn't smell or see anything unusual, so she disconnected the device. Bowman, who lives a floor above Wisniewski, said she awoke to the smell of smoke at 2 a.m., and when she went into the living room, she noticed that the floor was scorching hot. "Smoke was coming through the door and the ceiling," she said. "It was pretty bad." Bowman quickly phoned 911 and ran downstairs to knock on neighbors' doors. But when she got to Wisniewski's, she found the door was scalding. Wisniewski - who celebrated her birthday Wednesday - was pronounced dead at New York Hospital Queens. Sources said her daughter, Olivia Kuros, and two men - ages 50 and 52 - were taken to ÿarea hospitals for smoke inhalation. Additional reporting by Larry Celona firstname.lastname@example.org