Saturday, February 24, 2018
Public safety

After huge sinkhole opens, residents weigh future with unease

LAND O'LAKES — The wood floors creak each time Kendra Denzik dashes inside her darkened home to grab fresh clothes. She can't help but panic when they do.

Popping noises can be a warning sign of imminent sinkhole collapse.

The last time Denzik or her husband Dylan have spent more than 10 minutes inside the home they bought seven months ago was July 14. That's the day the earth opened in Lake Padgett Estates and devoured two houses on the other side of their backyard fence.

BACK STORY: Sinkhole swallows home, forces evacuations in Land O'Lakes neighborhood

The parents of an 18-month-old little girl, Kennedy, own one of 11 homes deemed unsafe after Pasco's largest sinkhole in decades fell. While residents of some of the others have been allowed to return, the Denziks aren't sure they ever will.

Residents here describe an idyllic suburban life of biking around Lake Padgett and bonding at waterfront block parties that has been thrown into anxious chaos. Many say they had no idea their community has had a history of sinkhole activity.

"Had we known there was a sinkhole in our backyard," said Denzik, 29, who grew up in Lake Padgett Estates, "we wouldn't have bought a home here."

Others did know the history, but didn't appreciate the danger. Now they're weighing love for their community against a sense of security, and one question is weighing heavy on their minds: What next?

• • •

Like the Denziks, Terence and Tisha Doohen's living situation is in limbo. They are waiting to hear whether their home, which sits across the street from those destroyed, is structurally sound. It is one of the three that were still without power late this week.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Terence Doohen, 44, left, and his wife, Tisha Doohen, 44, of Land O'Lakes stand behind their home, which is now fenced off after a massive sinkhole opened July 14. The Doohens are among 11 families who had to evacuate from their homes.

The husband and wife are staying with neighbors, Dan and Pat Gramer, who live just beyond the yellow tape surrounding the sinkhole. The families met when Dan Gramer, 69, welcomed them to the neighborhood two years ago.

Terence Doohen, 44, was the first to call Gramer about the news. The Gramers were driving back from Minnesota the day the sinkhole collapsed, and wouldn't be back until the following day. Dan Gramer insisted the Doohens take one of his guest rooms.

"That's just what you do when someone's in trouble," said Dan Gramer, who has lived in the neighborhood. "We're like family around here."

The couples take turns making dinner, and today they planned to celebrate their wedding anniversaries together at BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse.

"He and his wife are fantastic people, opening up their house and lives to us like this," Doohen said of Gramer.

Neither the Doohens nor the Gramers said they knew of past sinkholes in the neighborhood.

But ground depressions are not uncommon in Lake Padgett Estates. Records show that 21 properties in the community have had "sinkhole activity" since 2003, the year the county began collecting that information.

An actual sinkhole doesn't need to materialize for a property to receive that designation. There just has to be a "settlement or systematic weakening of the earth supporting such property," according to county codes.

• • •

That figure does not surprise Christie Zimmer, a 55-year-old real estate agent who lives on Pinecone Court, northeast of the sinkhole between Lake Joyce and East Lake. In 2012, she called State Farm to cancel her home insurance's sinkhole coverage because it was pricey.

The company sent someone out to test her property as a precaution. The geologist detected a 70-foot-deep cavern right under her master bedroom.

Insurance covered the remediation, which took $100,000 worth of labor and concrete. Zimmer paid an extra $20,000 out-of-pocket for repairs when contractors pumped too much concrete under the foundation.

"It cracked the house in half," she said.

Zimmer stayed at her mother's often after that.

"I didn't want to live in my house," she said. "It was unnerving."

She stopped thinking about the sinkhole as much as time passed. But now that a 235-foot-wide pit has opened nearby, it's back on her mind.

"Part of me is just waiting for my house to be next," she said.

Zimmer said she has no plans to sell her house. She fears no one would buy it, given recent events.

READ MORE: Is Sinkhole damage sinking Tampa Bay property values

Linda Hutchinson lives on Lake Saxon, about a mile from the disaster on Ocean Pines. She was displaced from her home for a year while sinkhole activity on her property was stabilized.

"It's just something we're all supposed to live with in Florida," she said. "But you never get used to the ground caving in on you."

• • •

Owners of 21835 Ocean Pines Drive — one of the homes destroyed — spent $30,000 in 2014 to reinforce their house's foundation with steel pins, according to county permits.

The renters of that home, Steve and Lavonne Jakubiec, could not be reached for comment. Neither could the home's owner, Walter Zadanoff. The Jakubiecs sold the house to Zadanoff in 2015, county records show.

Nearly $17,000 had been raised for the Jakubiecs through a GoFundMe page as of Thursday. The United Way also had collected about $14,000 for the Jakubiecs and the renters next door, Edilia and Theresa Villa, who lost most of their home but had renter's insurance. The Jakubiecs did not, the county said.

Edilia Villa's daughter, Thalia Chapman, said her family is still staying with her big brother in Tampa. They have not yet started looking for a new place. But the 15-year-old is somehow optimistic.

"I know that there's going to be a way out," she said, adding that she's grateful for the outpouring of support.

• • •

Eric Worsham and Theresa Mont-Worsham had lived on Ocean Pines Drive for just a week when the sinkhole caved in. They had barely unpacked when deputies appeared that morning. "Prepare to leave," they said.

"All of this is kind of disheartening," said 52-year-old Worsham. But there has been one upside, he said. He has met most of his new neighbors, and they're nice people.

Mike and Patricia Camunas are among the displaced families that have returned to Lake Padgett Estates. They built their home in 1982, when much of the neighborhood was still orange groves. They share a backyard fence with both houses claimed by the sinkhole.

Mike Camunas was getting his daughter, Brittany, ready for day care at about 7:45 a.m. when he heard a crash. He thought Brittany, 32, who is autistic and intellectually disabled, had dropped something. In reality, his neighbor's home was being torn apart as the sinkhole consumed it.

"I went out on the patio," said Camunas, 64, "looked over the fence and saw that the house was half gone."

The Camunas family spent two nights in a hotel and returned Sunday when their home was ruled safe. It makes him a little uneasy to be so close to the site, he said. But they moved back so quickly for their sake of their daughter, Brittany.

"We wanted to try and provide normalcy for her as soon as possible," he said.

Kendra Denzik's home was still considered uninhabitable as of Friday. She and her family are on vacation in St. Augustine, but before that they were staying with her parents, who live a half-mile up the road on Lake Padgett Drive.

The couple recently spoke with their real estate agent. The agent was apologetic, but explained that she doesn't typically check to see if surrounding properties have been affected by sinkholes.

The last time Denzik assessed her home during one of her quick, nervous visits, there was no damage that could be seen by the naked eye. But that alone is not enough reassurance to make moving back in seem like a good idea.

"At this time, I just don't feel comfortable being there," she said. "I can't put my family back in danger."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Laura Newberry at [email protected] Follow @LauraMNewberry.

 
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