Hammond wanted home where 3 died to be declared uninhabitable
BY CHRISTIN NANCE LAZERUS email@example.com January 10, 2014 3:50PM
A makeshift memorial sprung up outside the home on Sibley Street in Hammond, where three children had died in a fire Wednesday night. | Christin Nance Lazerus/Post-Tribune
Updated: February 12, 2014 6:10AM
HAMMOND — The home where a Wednesday night fire killed three children was on the brink of being declared uninhabitable, a city official said Friday.
The home at 644 Sibley St. lacked electrical service, running water and gas for at least six months, and Hammond officials were desperately trying to take action, with a court hearing scheduled for Jan. 16.
NIPSCO had disconnected electrical service due to nonpayment on March 20 and disconnected the gas line due to nonpayment on April 8. There also were two allegations of unauthorized use and meter tampering, according to NIPSCO spokesman Nick Meyer.
Hammond city attorney Kristina Kantar said code enforcement is required to go inside and take photos to document violations. But getting a search warrant requires notice be given to the listed owner of the home, which was purportedly sold to Joseph Witting of Real Estate Property Solutions of Ind., LLC, in 2012.
For a structure to be habitable, Hammond requires residents to have water service.
Kantar said quite a few landlords in Hammond make it difficult if not impossible to notify them by transferring properties via various holding companies.
“It makes it so we can’t enforce our laws,” Kantar said.
“We’re chasing ghosts a lot of the time,” she said. “Had this inspection been ordered last Thursday by the court, the property would have been marked uninhabitable by code. There were horrible consequences of this delay.”
Fire investigators believe a propane-fueld space heater caused the blaze, which started in the front of the house shortly after 10 p.m. Wednesday. Firefighters were unable to enter through the front door due to furniture and debris blocking it.
The three children, 4-year-old Dasani; his sister, 3-year-old Alexia, and their 7-month-old brother, Jayden, suffered burns and died less than two hours after firefighters arrived at the home.
Their father, Andre Young, 27, as well as two of Young’s sons, ages 6 and 2, remained at Stroger Hospital in Chicago. The boys were listed in good condition Friday night; they had suffered smoke inhalation. Young’s condition was listed as critical; he suffered third-degree burns.
Hammond Fire Department chief fire inspector Michael Opinker said all are expected to recover.
Hammond Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Margraf said Young and the two surviving boys were in the snow outside the home; it appeared he had pulled the children to safety.
A makeshift memorial, with stuffed animals and candles, was in front of the house on Friday.
The home had been cited for code violations in 2009 and 2012 as well. Though court records show Hammond City Court sent out various notices to appear starting in May, a filing by Real Estate Property Solutions’ attorney Christian Bartholomew stated the owner had not received notice until Sept. 20 due an unrecorded deed and needed more time to investigate the violations.
Several motions to continue were granted in recent months. In August, a default judgment in the amount of $2,618 was issued in Hammond City Court against Real Estate Equity Solutions; it was due Sept. 26.
Bartholomew said by email Friday night that his firm, Efron & Efron in Hammond, represents Wittig and that the property is owned by Equity Trust Co., custodian for the benefit of Wittig IRA.
“Unfortunately, I cannot provide any further information at this time, as I am still investigating the incident,” Bartholomew said.
Opinker called the space heater and propane tank combination a “dangerous setup.”
Candles were found in the area where the fire started — a downstairs front room where the three children who died were found.
Meanwhile, the family has received an outpouring of support and aid in the aftermath of the fire.
Donations to the family can be made through The Young Family Benefit Account, which has been set up at First Midwest Bank.
A bank spokesman on Friday said donations can be made at any First Midwest Bank location. The Itasca, Ill.-based bank has numerous branches in Northwest Indiana and Illinois.
Opinker said the department has been fielding numerous calls from individuals wanting to donate to the family. The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago also is assisting the family, spokeswoman Patricia Kemp said.
Kemp said Red Cross representatives met with family members on Friday to assess their needs. She said the Red Cross can provide shelter, food, warm clothing, mental health specialists to help the family deal with their loss and some health needs, such as replacement eyeglasses if some were lost in the fire.
Neither Opinker nor Kemp were aware of any funeral arrangements as of Friday afternoon.
The Red Cross also is helping Jasmin Rice, the resident who lived in an upstairs apartment, Opinker said; the house likely be condemned and torn down.
Correspondent Karen Caffarini contributed to this story.