Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Public safety

After huge sinkhole opens, residents weigh future with unease

RECOMMENDED READING


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.

 
Comments
Report: Pepin Academies director had alcohol in his system at time of fatal boating accident

Report: Pepin Academies director had alcohol in his system at time of fatal boating accident

CLEARWATER — The former Pepin Academies executive director who died in a watercraft and boat collision on Sept. 23 had a blood-alcohol level nearly twice the level at which the state presumes someone is impaired, a toxicology report showed. Just befo...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Pasco Deputies: Man climbs into bed with sleeping woman after multiple burglaries

Pasco Deputies: Man climbs into bed with sleeping woman after multiple burglaries

NEW PORT RICHEY — A man who ended a series of burglaries by breaking into the home of a sleeping woman, where he climbed into her bed, was arrested Monday afternoon, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said.Russel Smith, 42, now faces three felony char...
Updated: 5 hours ago

28-year-old man shot dead in Spring Hill home, deputies say

SPRING HILL — A 28-year-old man was shot and killed inside a Spring Hill home Monday night, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies responded to at least two separate 911 calls about 8:15 p.m., in which callers reported shots being...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Crime Stoppers, Straz Foundation still working out Seminole Heights reward money

Crime Stoppers, Straz Foundation still working out Seminole Heights reward money

TAMPA — You can collect $110,000 in reward money for information leading to an arrest in the Seminole Heights killings, but for now you’ll have to make two stops.The David A. Straz Foundation announced Monday it would contribute $10,000 to a reward f...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Crash involving bicyclist closes EB lanes on W Kennedy Boulevard in downtown Tampa

TAMPA — Eastbound lanes on W Kennedy Boulevard were reopened by 6:30 a.m. at S Parker Street in downtown Tampa after a bicyclist was struck early Tuesday morning.The crash occurred in front of the University of Tampa, according to broadcast reports.W...
Published: 11/21/17
In wake of killings, Seminole Heights hosts supper to thank first responders

In wake of killings, Seminole Heights hosts supper to thank first responders

TAMPAKenny Hoffa surprised everyone when he made the seven-hour drive from Charleston, S.C., to Tampa’s Seminole Heights to attend a dinner set up to thank police for working hard to solve a string of recent killings.For Hoffa, it was an easy decisio...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Another teen fights for his life following reported stolen car crash

Another teen fights for his life following reported stolen car crash

ST. PETERSBURG — Another teenager is fighting for his life after a crash involving a car that was later reported stolen, according to police.The 15-year-old was a passenger in a 2014 Chevrolet Camaro that hit a tree in the 4000 block of 11th Avenue S...
Published: 11/20/17
Updated: 11/21/17
NTSB report details steep turns and dives preceding Roy Halladay’s fatal crash

NTSB report details steep turns and dives preceding Roy Halladay’s fatal crash

Before he crashed, Roy Halladay flew within 75 feet of houses and skimmed the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, according to a report published Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board.The report, which did not address the cause of the crash, ...
Published: 11/20/17
Updated: 11/21/17
Blasts at plant kill 1, injure dozens

Blasts at plant kill 1, injure dozens

NEW WINDSOR, N.Y. — Authorities recovered the body of a male worker reported missing after two explosions and a fire at a New York cosmetics factory left 30 to 35 people injured, including seven firefighters caught in the second blast, officials said...
Published: 11/20/17
Tampa Electric, contractor fined $43,000 in gas leak

Tampa Electric, contractor fined $43,000 in gas leak

APOLLO BEACH — The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Tampa Electric $18,108 and gave the company two "serious" citations for its response to a gas leak at the Big Bend Power Station in May, the agency announced late Friday.T...
Published: 11/20/17