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3 charged in fatal blast; work continues in neighborhood

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Workers from Citizens Energy Group work at the site of an explosion late Saturday night in the  Richmond Hill subdivision in Indianapolis, Indiana. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Workers from Citizens Energy Group work at the site of an explosion late Saturday night in the Richmond Hill subdivision in Indianapolis, Indiana. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

While workers continue to tear down their neighbors’ houses, many residents of the devastated Richmond Hill neighborhood have strung Christmas lights and hung up Colts horseshoes as they try to get their lives back to normal.

Workers have razed 14 homes in the southside neighborhood that were deemed unsafe to live in. The city has issued 22 demolition permits, but some of the homeowners still are working to arrange for contractors to do the work.

Whole rows of lots sit empty and fenced off near the blast site on Fieldfare Way, where a massive explosion killed Greenwood Southwest Elementary School teacher Jennifer Longworth and her husband, Dion Longworth, and caused about $4.4 million in damage to 90 homes.

By the numbers

Here’s a look at progress that’s been made with demolition work since the Nov. 10 explosion that devastated Richmond Hill:


Homes that had been demolished as of Tuesday


Number of demolition permits that have been issued so far


Homeowners who are in talks with contractors about razing their houses


Total number of houses that will be demolished


Homes that were slated to be demolished but will be saved because the homeowner got an engineer to come up with adequate repairs and successfully appealed


Denied appeal by an insurance company to salvage a home that the homeowner wanted to be demolished


Total number of homes that suffered some damage, such as broken windows or fallen siding

$4.4 million

Estimated amount of damage

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry charged homeowner Monserrate Shirley, her boyfriend Mark Leonard and his brother Robert Leonard with two counts of murder, conspiracy to commit arson and multiple counts of arson.

The last two homes slated for demolition belonged to the Longworths and Shirley, which had not yet been demolished because investigators had not cleared them since evidence still could be gathered from the debris, Indianapolis Department of Code Enforcement spokesman Al Ensley said.

Dozens of families are in temporary housing while their homes on Fieldfare Way, Alcona Drive, Towhees Drive and Andrusia Lane are razed or repaired.

The city’s goal was to demolish 33 structurally damaged homes by Thursday, but code enforcement is giving homeowners more time so they don’t get gouged by having to hire contractors on short notice, Ensley said. Two homeowners successfully appealed to have their homes repaired and saved, but the city denied an insurance company’s request to salvage a third house that was slated to come down because the owner wanted it demolished.

Homeowner Tony Quakenbush told city officials at a hearing Thursday he and his family have been living in a hotel and have watched their home deteriorate during the past several weeks, Ensley said. They don’t feel comfortable moving back in and agree it should come down, he said.

“His daughter still has trouble sleeping,” Ensley said. “They don’t feel safe and are concerned about what might happen in five or 10 years if it’s not torn down. I can’t blame the guy since the settling and the freezing are going to be issues.”

Most of the displaced families have told city officials they want to tear down and start over, Ensley said. They’re mostly concerned that it wouldn’t be safe to go back after major structural damage or that their home values would plummet because they’d have to disclose the explosion damage if they ever sold, he said.

However, two homeowners wanted to salvage their homes and got engineers to come up with plans to make repairs, Ensley said. The city agreed to those repairs instead of demolition and will inspect the houses to make sure they’re safe to move back in to, he said.

“My understanding is they tore off all the drywall so they could inspect every inch of the house before coming up with the repairs,” he said. “When they’re done with the construction, we’ll do a final inspection to make sure the structures are safe.”

Ensley said the demolition process is complicated and requires the coordination of the property owners, their insurance company, engineers, contractors and city inspectors.

The city decided to be flexible with the Dec. 20 deadline since homeowners were getting quoted prices for demolition that were two to three times higher than normal because of the short notice, Ensley said. Indianapolis doesn’t want any of the affected homeowners or their insurers to have to pay those inflated prices and is giving them more time, he said.

Nine homeowners who don’t have demolition permits are trying to find contractors to hire, Ensley said. The city will give them as much time as they need and expects that some demolitions won’t take place until after the holidays.

“We’re very much aware of what a stressful situation this is for them, so we’re trying to be as flexible as possible while ensuring everyone’s safety,” he said.

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