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Placing the blame after fatal row house collapse

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Posted at 5:31 PM, Mar 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-30 17:31:40-04

A pristine Cadillac crushed by tons of bricks, and its proud owner, 69-year old Thomas Lemmon, was sitting behind the wheel of that car when the row house came down.

Lemmon died following the building collapse.

Brian Marion is part of an asphalt crew working in the 900 block of North Payson Street who says it could have been worse, because three men had been sitting in that same car minutes earlier.

Related: Man dies from building collapse on car

"They were sitting there all day just talking and hanging out, and then all of the sudden the high winds we had on Monday all the sudden hit that brick wall,” said Marion, “There was an exposed roof on this abandoned house and the wind just got on the inside of the wall and knocked the whole wall down right on top of his Cadillac... completely crushed the car."

An image of the structure on Google Maps shows it had carried a red 'x' on its front door, which tells firefighters that it’s structurally unsound in the event of a fire.

Why then didn't the city recognize the potential danger posed by the row home?

It's a question now posed to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

"I know that we have a list of homes that have been inspected and they get re-inspected on a regular basis, because we know that just because a house might be leaning just slightly today doesn't mean that a month from now it won't be significantly different," said Rawlings-Blake.

The mayor says, even if the city could quadruple its effort to demolish vacant homes, it wouldn't be enough after decades of neglect.

"I don't have a secret money tree in the basement,” said the mayor, “I cannot write a blank check for these things."

The question now is whether this constitutes a wrongful death, and who would be writing that check to Lemmon's family after a tragedy that Brian Marion and his crew will never forget.

"We were the ones that called 911 to get them out here,” said Marion, “911 was busy a couple of times when I was calling.  My co-worker got in there and got the fire trucks out here and then they came and did their thing---cut the roof off, got him out of the car, did CPR right here on the sidewalk for him and put him in the ambulance.  There was nothing they could do."

Housing officials say that property was last inspected on January 26th and no bowing, cracks in the mortar or other evidence of a possible collapse was evident, but the city doesn't own it.

They say a Baltimore-based LLC called Montego Bay Properties purchased it at a tax sale foreclosure in 2013 so they would be liable for it.

In fact, the city will be seeking reimbursement from that company for demolishing what remains of the row house.

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