Richmond Hill demolition disputes resolved

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Before winter weather gets here for good, the city wants homes badly damaged in the south side explosion torn down and cleaned up. Surprisingly, a few homeowners or their insurance companies are fighting the demolition orders.

One family, however, had to fight to let the city have its way.

Heavy equipment is still at work in the Richmond Hill neighborhood. Fourteen homes have been torn down, with 17 more to go. Of the 33 homes the city originally ordered demolished, two owners convinced inspectors they could be repaired.

Only one dispute was left for an administrative law judge to decide. The owner of that house, Tony Quakenbush, sided with the city and said tear it down.

"As I see, over the weeks, more and more damage and more and more deterioration, I don't feel comfortable in that situation," he said with an emotional voice Thursday.

But his insurance company and its experts said "Let it stand" and asked for more time to prove their case.

"We still hold the opinion the home is repairable," one of them told the hearing officer.

The explosion and fire almost six weeks ago killed two people and destroyed or damaged almost a hundred homes in the small neighborhood. A criminal investigation into the cause is still underway.

Many of the homes the city says are damaged beyond repair, like the Quakenbush's home, at first, look okay. But there is a brace against a bulging side wall to keep it from buckling or possibly collapsing. City inspectors say the foundation is leaning and behind a crumpled garage door there is much more damage.

After hearing the testimony, the administrative law judge announced, "It would be on my conscience if something did happen, so..."

He upheld the demolition order, to the relief of the city's director of code enforcement, Adam Collins.

"They are not going to be dealt with lingering safety issues or lingering concerns about warranties," Collins said.

However, Quakenbush said it would still be a tough call to his wife to let her know of the ruling.

"It's going to be a difficult phone call. We both agreed what needed to happen, but again, ten years of family, ten years of love, ten years of improvement, everything we've done and put into our house, now we know it's all gone," he said.

But this was just another step in what Quakenbush says has been a hellish ordeal for his wife and children.

"Ten years of family, ten years of love, ten years of improvements. Everything we've done and put into our home, now we know it's gone," he said.

The city wants the remaining damaged homes torn down by the end of the month. Inspectors don't want them collapsing or blowing apart in severe winter weather.

Indiana's Department of Insurance assigned two people to work with homeowners and their insurance companies. Thursday, a spokesman says they've received a couple of questions from homeowners, but not one single formal complaint.

Quakenbush's insurance company has 10 days to appeal the decision. He's not sure yet whether the family will rebuild or move on to a new home in a new neighborhood.

As for the criminal investigation into who and what sparked the explosion, authorities tell us they continue to process evidence.

While two people have been questioned, no arrests have been made.