The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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August 29, 2013

Lightning strike knocks down retaining wall

SHARON — Lightning hit Lester Beighley’s just-finished retaining wall with the force of a cruise missile early Wednesday.

The blast at about 12:20 a.m. demolished a 25-foot section of the wall and instantly melted the sand in some of its masonry into something like glass. It hurled some of the heavy interlocking and glued blocks across Lorain Street at South Irvine Avenue in Sharon.

Beighley’s two-story apartment house at 360 S. Irvine has tenants in its four apartments but no one was hurt when the storm flung its destructive thunderbolt.

Beighley, whose home is next door at 337 Lorain was still shaking his head in amazement when he displayed pieces of the damaged masonry about 12 hours later.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “It scorched the rock and melted it.”

According to Scientific American magazine’s website, lightning generates heat more than 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit while silica sand that is a component of manufactured blocks melts at about 3,000 degrees to 3,285 degrees.

Jackson Flickinger, who lives with Amy Henry and their 3-year-old son in one of the apartments, said he wondered if he had been in an earthquake.

“It shook the house so hard it made my legs shake,” he said. “Then I heard the blocks fall.”

Other neighbors came out of their houses in the rain to see what had happened.

While Beighley looked at the ruined section of wall, his friend and landscaping contractor Jim Back arrived for a look.

Back and two others in his crew just two weeks ago finished the wall that stands 8è feet at its highest elevation and had held up 110 feet of the bank along Lorain.

A contractor for 15 years who has built half a dozen large retaining walls for businesses and homeowners, the owner of JB Hauling and Handyman in Sharon said he has never had one come down.

Much of the 25 cubic yards of fill Back had set with the bucket of a Bobcat onto webbed landscape fabric to stabilize the bank had been blown onto the sidewalk.

Beighley half-joked that the storm damage seems to be a continuation of trouble and expense that began in May when a driver speeding away from police slammed an SUV into the wall and had no insurance to pay for the damage he had caused.

Beighley’s insurance company eventually agreed to pay $9,000 for the new wall that so far has cost $18,000 to build, he said.

That doesn’t include the cost of newly planted landscaping evergreens and perennials that might be salvageable.

He had already put new siding on the house and replaced its doors and windows.

The project was to include the rebuilding of a second retaining wall behind the apartment and the pouring of concrete for a new sidewalk at the back entrance.

“I just can’t seem to win,” Beighley said. “It’s been one thing after another.”

The storm damage has thrown a wrench – at least temporarily – into efforts he and Back have been making to clean up abandoned properties on the street.

They have been working with Lorain Street neighbors and Bob Fiscus, city code director, to make their West Hill neighborhood more attractive by cutting grass on abandoned lots and attacking blight at their own expense with the occasional help of others.

Participants in the South Irvine Avenue cleanup that began two years ago, Beighley, 28, and Back, 31, who lives on Tamplin Street, since spring spearheaded the removal of weeds, brush and trash from two abandoned lots on Lorain and city street department workers disposed of it.

“I’ve done all I can to make it look good,” Beighley said of his apartment house and other properties on the street. “Now I don’t know what I’ll do because I’m out of money.”

The men are not formally business partners but say they have an interest in improving life in their financially struggling city because they both have children.

They say they’re determined to overcome the latest obstacle fate has thrown in their way.

“We both have dump trucks and we both have our own projects,” Back said. “We try to support each other as much as we can.”

As disappointing as the retaining wall setback might be, Beighley said he will do whatever it takes to move ahead with his neighborhood improvement plans and he’s hoping others elsewhere in the Sharon will try to do the same.

“That’s the way the community needs to be,” he said. “You have to take responsibility and you have to work together to get anythng done. None of us is rich.”

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