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Hillsborough code inspectors find hazards near deadly septic tank

Code inspector A. Sanchez scoops dirt off a septic tank at the Silver Lane Mobile Home Park in Valrico on Monday. Inspectors found that the concrete cover had been removed and replaced by a piece of metal.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Code inspector A. Sanchez scoops dirt off a septic tank at the Silver Lane Mobile Home Park in Valrico on Monday. Inspectors found that the concrete cover had been removed and replaced by a piece of metal.

VALRICO — Two days after a toddler was found dead in an uncovered septic tank at a mobile home park, Hillsborough County code inspectors found numerous other violations at the property, including another tank without a concrete lid.

The septic tank discovered Monday morning was capped off with a thin piece of metal, said code enforcement supervisor Bill Langford, who led an hourlong sweep of the Silver Lane Mobile Home Park.

Code enforcement officials expect to cite the property's owner for that violation and several others today. The property owner will have 24 hours to begin compliance on the septic tank violations.

It's the responsibility of the owner, and not the renters, to properly cover septic tanks, said Dexter Barge, the Hillsborough County code enforcement director.

Sheriff's deputies also continued their investigation of death Monday. No charges had been filed, and it was unclear if any will come, sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway said.

Two-year-old Luis Martinez's body was discovered Saturday afternoon in an underground tank less than 50 yards from his family's mobile home off Silver Lane, officials said. He apparently fell through an 11- by 13-inch opening that was covered by grass.

The non-standard septic tank lid didn't pose an immediate danger, but code inspectors weren't taking any chances. They packed dirt over the metal sheet and blocked off the area with red tape. Eventually, the makeshift cover could give way, Langford said.

"If a child was back here and it was completely rusted, then over time they could fall in," he said. "Metal rusts pretty quickly underneath the ground. Give it a couple months … it definitely could be a major concern."

Inspectors also cordoned off two septic tank openings across the street at a mobile home lot with the same owner. Although they had concrete tops, the openings were too high above the ground, Langford said.

Other code violations found during the sweep include: improper electrical wiring, windows screwed shut, propane tanks on the ground and broken tie-downs.

Silver Lane LLC owns the lot where the incident took place, as well as the mobile home lot down the street, according to Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's records. The company is inactive, according to state corporate records. Its sole officer was Kenneth Winter.

Winter declined Sunday to comment. On Monday afternoon, a woman at his Dover home said Winter did not want to speak with the media. The woman declined to comment as well.

"I just don't think that I should talk to you about it at all," she said from behind a closed door.

Hillsborough County code enforcement records show no cases at the park under Silver Lane LLC's ownership.

The company acquired the property in 2007, according to public records. Several code enforcement cases there from the mid 1990s to 2002 took place under a previous owner.

County Health Department officials said they have not received any complaints about the property.

This year, the Health Department conducted two routine inspections at the park, said Brian Miller, the agency's environmental administrator. After an inspection in February, officials told the property owner to keep trash bins closed, to make sure trash is not left beside bins and to remove unregistered vehicles from the site. An inspection in July found no violations.

Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee said Saturday investigators would look into a claim that someone reported the open septic tank to the property manager about a month ago.

On Monday, a memorial of candles, stuffed animals and flowers remained in place in front of the septic tank where Luis was found. He lived in the park with his parents, Juan Martinez and Rosalina Ramirez, and 2-month-old sister, Adelina.

Luis went missing Friday afternoon. On Saturday night, Ramirez, 20, said in an interview that she thought a neighbor was watching her son. Authorities are looking into whether Luis was being supervised by an adult.

Times researchers John Martin and Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Kevin Smetana can be reached at ksmetana@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2439.

Hillsborough code inspectors find hazards near deadly septic tank 11/30/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 1, 2009 12:16am]
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