Still no cleanup after fatal tree accident five years ago
It's been five years since a tree fell on a home in Rossville, killing a 7-year-old boy. His family tells Channel 3 they haven't had closure, and neighbors haven't either.
Thursday, May 1st 2014, 6:06 pm EDT
It's been five years since a tree fell on a home in Rossville, killing a 7-year-old boy. His family tells Channel 3 they haven't had closure, and neighbors haven't either. The tree hasn't moved since the night of the accident, leaving smashed ruins that have never been picked up.
Linda Tomas-Gabriel lived a nightmare nearly five years ago.
"It sounded like a big, loud thunder sound, and it came crashing down," she recalled.
Linda was pinned for five hours when that tree fell on the rental home in the 700 block of Roberta Dr. in May 2009.
"I couldn't breathe," she said. "I kept trying and trying to yell, and finally someone heard me."
Tomas-Gabriel was falling asleep with her grandsons that night. She was able to shield one of them, but the tree fell directly onto 7-year-old Christian's bed.
"I was trying my best to move my legs to get to where Christian was," said Linda. "But I couldn't."
The tree killed the boy instantly. Doctors told Linda it was a miracle she survived.
"I knew the tree was on him, but I didn't know he was gone until I was at the hospital."
Yana Van Horn has lived in the home next door for 30 years.
"It's depressing to think about what happened then," Van Horn said. "I just try not to look at it when I pull in."
The destroyed house has been a neighborhood eyesore for five years now, she said.
"We kept thinking maybe someone would try to buy it, or the county would come clean it up or something, but nothing's happened," she said. "It's just left here to dilapidate."
Walker County Building Official, Mark Askew, acknowledges that it's a frustrating situation.
"It's frustrating for us, and I know it's frustrating for the community," he said.
According to Askew, the county cited the original property owner to court for a nuisance ordinance violation four years ago, but she quickly transferred ownership to her ex-husband, Gregory Clark, who lives across state lines.
"When we don't have the jurisdiction to go across the state line, or do anything as far as citing them, we don't even have a location on him at this time," said Askew.
That means the county can't demolish the property without a court order, even though the land's property taxes are four years overdue.
"Loopholes in the system tie not only our hands, but also the judicial system's," Askew said.
Walker Co. Tax Commissioner, Carolyn Walker, said the property's legal matters have kept the land from going to a tax sale.
"If something's wrong legally, then we have to stop until things are corrected or we get more information," she said.
Channel 3 attempted to reach out to Clark. His wife told us they would give up the land if someone paid the $650 back taxes.
And that's what Tomas-Gabriel said she plans to do.
"I want to be able to do something with that house," she said. "And maybe even make a memorial garden there for Christian."
Tomas-Gabriel said she has made arrangements to pay for the back taxes, and hopes to convince the current owner to sell over the property.
Meantime, Walker Co. officials said they are currently working on ways to reduce the use of loopholes on current codes to avoid situations like this in the future.