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City Mistakenly Demolishes Man’s Home

Officials blame homeowner and county records

SAINT LOUIS -- Lewis Hill couldn't believe it, but there it was: A crane was knocking down his house.  While Hill was away a wrecking crew contracted by the city came to the residence and knocked the three-bedroom, full-basement home to the ground.

Hill's cousin, Kevin Monk, 28, who lives near Hill's home, tried desperately to stop the determined demolition crew. Monk saw the wrecking crew come to the home, and told the crew his cousin owned the house.

"I told them he was on his way and told them, 'Don't tear the house down.' They told me they were going to tear it down and they did," Monk told reporters from The Belleville News Democrat.

Hill said he bought the home in East St. Louis in October, admitting the house needed a lot of work to make it livable. But he never expected the city to tear it down.

Monk and Hill believe the house was knocked down for the bricks. It sits between two frame houses that are vacant and in bad shape. Hill's brick home was demolished last December. The frame houses are still standing.

"They hauled 10 pallets of bricks away every other day. They must have carried about 30 to 40 pallets of bricks," Monk said, shaking his head.

But Demolition coordinator Marcus Johnson said the house was not destroyed because of the dollar value of the bricks. He said the frame houses are still standing because the contractor just hasn't had time to get to them.

City Manager Robert Betts said he could not believe authorities had not notified Hill of the status of his property. He said if the city was in error, the right thing would be done to correct the error.

Hill said he did not receive a phone call or a letter informing him the city planned to knock his house down before McKinney Brothers Hauling knocked it down.

Feeling angry and dejected, Hill and his cousin James O’Neal have been trying to reach city leaders since the home was torn down last December. They want answers about why the house he holds the deed to was destroyed.

"This should never happen to anyone," O'Neal said. "Can you imagine coming home to find your home torn down?"

Hill and O'Neal tried to talk to council members at a recent City Council meeting, but were prevented because they were not listed on the agenda.

Richard Bonner, director of the city's TIF department, which is responsible for the demolition contracts, said department records show the property was listed in the names of J. D. and Annie M. Rencher. He said records show a letter was sent to the house Feb. 6 informing the Renchers the property had been deemed hazardous.

"Nothing was returned to us, and no one came into our office about the property," he said.

Bonner blames St. Clair County for the snafu that cost Hill his home. He said his office was not made aware of the October sale to Hill by the county.

He also holds Hill responsible. “It's the buyer's responsibility to research the property to see whether it is slated for demolition”, Bonner said. "We advertised for demolition bids for the property in the East St. Louis Monitor from May 4-12."

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