City warned builder before collapse

November 16, 1990|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Evening Sun Staff

Orange condemnation signs remained on the doors of four homes in Upton following yesterday's cave-in of two vacant houses owned by a developer who failed to heed the city's advice and obtain drawings from a structural engineer.

He also apparently exceeded the limit of his reconstruction permit.

Meanwhile, two of five people who were injured when the houses collapsed remained hospitalized.

Between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. yesterday, the rear portions of the roofs caved in on two, three-story corner homes, in the 500 block of McMechen St. The bricks crumbled onto the additions of two adjacent properties, and wiped out their kitchens, said Zack Germroth, a spokesman for the Department of Housing and Community Development. The properties are owned by builder George Vincent Inc.

Marion Barnes, 29, of the 1000 block of Cameron Road, who was visiting at 538 McMechen St., remained in guarded condition at the University of Maryland Medical Center with abdominal and head injuries, hospital spokeswoman Jill Bloom said. "Apparently part of the wall or ceiling fell on him," she said.

Meanwhile, Lorina Smith, 31, of 538 McMechen St., was listed in fair and stable condition at the Shock-Trauma Unit in Baltimore. Etta Jones, 73, of 540 McMechen St., was treated at the University of Maryland Medical Center and released. Both women were in their kitchens during the brick avalanche.

Also, Quinton Dennis, 21, and Jason Peoples, 19, of 540 McMechen St. were treated at Maryland General Hospital and released, a hospital spokeswoman said.

"What we believe occurred is that structural changes were made and the buildings' walls were removed without shoring up [reinforcing] the walls and ceiling," Germroth said. When inspectors arrived, they found tools left behind in the vacant homes, he said.

James Watson, construction and building inspection supervisor for the housing department, said George Vincent Inc. had been warned at least two times, including last Friday, to obtain the correct permit and drawings from a structural engineer.

The drawings could have pointed out "the middle-party walls" or the "backbone of the building" had been removed at some point, Germroth said.

In fact, a city housing inspector had arrived about noon yesterday to meet with someone from the company or even the structural engineer to check to see if the drawings were indeed completed, Watson said. "Only when he got there," Watson said, "the building was already down."

On Oct. 4, the company received a moderate rehabilitation permit, which allowed minor repairs. Watson and Germroth said the company's rehabilitation work exceeded the permit's authorization.

A representative of George Vincent Inc., at the scene last night, refused to comment, saying only, "We were going to present [plans for the building] to the community."

The cave-in remains under investigation, Watson said.

No criminal charges or fines will be filed, Germroth said.

However, the company will pick up the tab for the city's cleanup work, estimated to run into thousands of dollars, Germroth said.

A city demolition crew worked for five hours yesterday, using a 50-ton crane and two 10-ton dump trucks to remove debris and the back portions of the building to guard against another collapse.

Officials had no damage estimates for the collapsed buildings.

Watson said the buildings, about 75 years old, had deteriorated over the years and were struck by a previous fire.

Last night, family members returned to gather clothing, and utility workers turned off the gas and electric in the two homes that had been occupied. The American Red Cross relocated one family, while another stayed with a neighbor a few doors down.

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