Lawsuit Filed Over Burned Sports Shop

Owner Of Neighboring Shop Suedin Nov. 17 City Blaze

March 11, 1992|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — The owners of a landmark Main Street sporting goods store destroyed last year in the city's worst fire are seeking $500,000 from the owner of the shop where the blaze was said to begin.

D & L Sports Inc., owners of Heagy's Sports Shop, filed a lawsuit in Carroll Circuit Court charging that negligence on the part of the owner of Stem's UsedFurniture and Appliances caused the five-alarm blaze that led to thedestruction of their business.

"As a direct result of the defendant's negligence, the . . . fireensued," the suit, filed Friday by Westminster attorney Charles E. Stoner, said. "This directly caused (D & L) to suffer damages, loss ofpersonal property . . . loss of inventory, stock and trade, loss of records and loss of income."

D & L officials would not comment on any plans to reopen.

Heagy's and Stem's occupied space in a building at 16 W. Main St. The building -- owned by LeRoy Rosenstock of Bond Street -- was demolished several weeks after the Nov. 17 fire.

State fire marshals traced the origins of the blaze to a workshop where William J. Stem -- the furniture shop owner -- did refinishing work. Officials say the fire broke out when vapors from a liquid used in the restoration of an antique chest exploded, quickly spreading flames throughout the building.

The suit contends Stem, of Manchester, was negligent because he had failed to heed orders from fire officials, who in July found his shop had several violations.

Fire officials had cited Stem for violations that included refinishing furniture in a workroom that was not fireproof, absence of a proper ventilationsystem and a lack of proper storage facilities. Stem was ordered to correct those violations, as well as install explosion-proof motors on all power equipment in the shop.

Fire officials said that in looking through the charred fire scene in the days after the blaze they found evidence that Stem had not followed their orders. Stem also wasordered to cease restoration there until the violations were corrected.

The fire, which began in the late afternoon, burned out of control for more than five hours, fueled by more than 10,000 square feetof furniture, stripping and refinishing chemicals and firearms ammunition from Heagy's.

"The defendant was negligent in continuing hisfurniture stripping operation in a hazardous and extremely unsafe manner," the suit said.

Stem was not charged with any criminal wrongdoing in connection with the blaze, and city police and fire officials confirmed Monday that charges against him were highly unlikely. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Stoner is on vacation this week and could not be reached for comment. A woman who answered a phone listed inthe name of D & L principal Charles W. Nightingale Jr. refused to talk to a reporter. Stem could not be reached.

The suit is the firstcivil action taken in the wake of the blaze.

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