The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

October 2, 2013

Judge orders fire-damaged houses to be demolished

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

HERMITAGE — A judge on Tuesday ordered the demolition of two fire-damaged houses on Baker Avenue in Hermitage.

Property owner Joseph Toth has 10 days to tear down the structures at 51 and 51è Baker. If he does not, the city has been authorized to undertake the work and assess the costs to Toth.

“We feel that the judge’s ruling is appropriate and the sooner we can get these structures down the better,” said City Manager Gary P. Hinkson.

Toth, of 1190 Sharpsville Ave., Sharon, did not respond to the city’s petition for demolition – the judge noted Toth was properly notified of it – and did not participate in Tuesday’s hearing.

The city filed the petition Sept. 13, alleging both single-family homes are in danger of collapse. They previously had been posted as unfit for habitation.

The house at 51 Baker, which fronts the street, was damaged in a fire on March 24, 2010, and the city shortly afterward posted it as unfit.

City officials returned to the property when a neighbor walked into the city building and reported that there had been a fire Sept. 3 at 51è Baker, which sits behind the other house and shares a driveway with it.

The occupant of the house, who lived there with three young children, told the neighbor she did not want the fire department called and that she would put it out herself, said fire Chief Robert Goeltz.

The occupant did not want to let officials into the house when they investigated Sept. 5, but Goeltz said he could see from standing outside that there was fire damage inside.

After officials said they could get a search warrant, the occupant allowed them to enter, Goeltz said.

The occupant moved out about three days later, and Mercer County Children and Youth Services was notified, Goeltz said.

Officials returned to inspect the house Sept. 12.

Goeltz said the fire started in the bedroom. One of the children had a candle and dropped it in the room after telling her sleeping mother that there was a fire in the living room, he said.

The bedroom contained several-foot-high piles of clothing and debris, which Goeltz said firefighters would have removed from the room and pose the risk of reigniting.

City inspector Russell Penn said the house’s roof rafters are failing, drywall has separated from the walls and ceilings, which also showed signs of water damage, wires hung down from a light fixture and the basement contained 1 to 2 inches of raw sewage.

There were holes knocked into walls at 51 Baker, signs of drug activity, such as needles and what appeared to be rocks of crack cocaine, and the foundation was bowed and cracked to the point that someone in the basement could see daylight through the cracks, Penn said.

About two dozen tires were thrown into the kitchen and dining room, Penn said.

Toth had been notified by letter of the results of the inspections, and informed of his rights to repair the structures or appeal the determinations.

“He never responded to any of the violation notices ... never contacted my office for any reason saying he wanted to correct the problem,” Penn said.

The most cost-effective measure that can be taken with the houses is razing them, Penn said.

Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Thomas R. Dobson declared that the houses are dangerous.

“The only appropriate remedy is to tear the residences down,” he said.