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May 10, 2013

Demolition time

Home destroyed by fire subject of court proceedings

WALTON — One year after arson charges were dropped, the Durr family’s large, blue, fire-ravaged house still stands empty and discarded.

A fire tore through the home at 202 N. Davis St. in Walton in September 2011 and the house has remained largely untouched since the blaze. While town officials and Benjimin and Wendy Durr hope for its demolition, the Durrs are caught up in a federal court case against their insurance company to get enough money to take down the house.

The Durrs were arrested in January 2012 in connection with the fire. Though they were initially charged with arson — Benjimin Durr was charged with Class C felony arson and Wendy Durr was charged with conspiracy to commit arson, a Class C felony — the charges were dropped in May 2012, when they could not be substantiated.

When the charges were dropped, Cass County Prosecutor Kevin Enyeart said he no longer believed the Durrs had set the fire and that there had been holes in the investigations.

Now, the Durrs are involved in a federal court case against their insurance company, United Services Automobile Association Casualty Insurance Co., in order to get money to tear down the home, according to Mark Fryman, an attorney for the Durrs.

“We allege that we had a policy in place, and we had a loss, and that they owe money to us for the insurance policy,” Fryman said. “So far they have not paid and denied coverage.”

Fryman said he believed the insurance company is arguing that the Durrs had “either caused damage or had the damage caused” to their home.

Roger Wilbermuth, a spokesman for USAA, read a written statement from the company, saying the claim was not covered in the policy.

“USAA works hard to handle claims quickly and fairly, but we must also carefully investigate claims,” Wilbermuth said. “Sometimes we have to deny claims when they are not covered.”

Right now, the court case is still in its discovery phase, Fryman said. He said they’ve conducted more investigations on the home, which already had investigations by the state fire marshal and the insurance company right after the fire.

Fryman said he hopes to get a trial date set for the beginning of 2014, but he added he thought it would be “a fairly lengthy trial.”

In the meantime, Walton Town Marshal Tom Heflin said the Durr home is a “health hazard” that attracts animals and could be unsafe for neighborhood children who could enter the home.

“I’m really disheartened and kind of beleaguered by the whole situation,” Heflin said.

He said the town tries to monitor the home to make sure people don’t get in, but he’s still concerned about the overall structure and the attention it attracts.

Walton Town Manager Rick Lee said they’ve been wanting to see the house demolished for a long time.

“We’d love to see it torn down,” Lee said.  

But he said the town can’t do anything until the Durrs find out if they have the insurance money to tear the home down.

However, if the Durrs are not able to get the insurance money, Lee said the cost of the demolition will fall on the town.

“That’s a lot of money on a small community,” Lee said.  

Since the fire, Lee said the town has only been able to send notices to the Durrs to clean up trash and other items on the property.

He said they’ve complied with all the requests so far.

But, even with the cleanup, he said the house still needs to go.

“Now it’s just getting the point of it needs to be torn down,” Lee said.  

Caitlin Huston is a staff reporter of the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5148 or caitlin.huston@pharostribune.com.

 

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