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Citrus County home sits empty after owners report racism and threats

It was to be the Boyds' dream house, and Connie Boyd wanted everything just right.

She fretted over every detail during construction of the pink, 5,000-square-foot, $400,000 home in the upscale Pine Ridge section of Citrus County. As the work was wrapping up two years ago, she noticed the wrong marble tile had been installed over the fireplace.

The Boyds wanted the problem fixed, but not by the original subcontractors. The couple, who are African-American, were still upset about what they said occurred one day when they went to see how construction was progressing.

Three white construction workers "asked us what we were doing here, in a very rude way," Mark Boyd said. "They were surprised that a black family could buy a home like this."

When the new tile contractor, Dennis Rosaco, removed the tile several months later, he found a small package. Wrapped in newspaper were 11 M-90 firecrackers, ready to explode if anyone lighted a fire in the fireplace.

"Those things could have done some real big damage," Rosaco said. "Anyone in the living room would have been hurt, at least, and the house could have caught on fire."

The couple immediately contacted the builder, Lexington Homes, but company officials "dismissed the explosives as a joke," Mark Boyd said. "I don't think our house on fire and our safety is a joke."

Seven months later, a fire destroyed their 29-foot motor home, which was parked outside the house. Citrus County Fire Rescue investigated, but could not determine whether it was arson or an accident.

The Boyds believe the two incidents are linked.

"When my RV caught fire, too, I knew something was going on," Mark Boyd said.

Today, nearly two years later, the couple is no closer to knowing who planted the firecrackers in the house. They can't sell it in this depressed market, and Connie Boyd refuses to live there.

"If someone put explosives in our house," she said, "what else would they do?"

•••

After more than 20 years as a train conductor for New Jersey Transit, Boyd, 51, was ready in 2005 to retire and head south. Connie Boyd, 50, worked at the post office near their home in Montclair, N.J., a suburb about 45 miles west of New York City. She hoped to find similar work in their new town.

About 25 years ago, Boyd said, he visited a friend who had retired to Citrus County and he said he "fell in love with the house and with Citrus County."

Boyd felt it would be a good place for him and his wife of 30 years to retire, too. "I wanted my wife and I to have a beautiful house to spend our last years together," he said.

They bought a lot in Pine Ridge and contracted with Tampa-based Lexington Homes for a one-story, four-bedroom home on Corral Place in one of the most affluent subdivisions in this semirural county about 90 miles north of Tampa.

According to the U.S. census, Citrus County has a minority population of less than 5 percent. Boyd said there were no other black families in Pine Ridge to his knowledge, but that didn't bother him.

"I had been there before and hoped the area had changed over the years," he said.

Boyd described his Pine Ridge neighbors as beautiful.

"They had a welcoming party for us," he said. "The neighbors across the street said we could stay with them during construction, and they gave us a key so we could use their swimming pool even if they weren't home."

Then came the run-in with the white construction workers.

Boyd said that after he identified himself as the homeowner, the workers apologized, but he and his wife heard them continue to grumble. "They made the worst comments once they realized people like us were moving here," Boyd said.

Several months later, on Feb. 8, 2007, Rosaco found the explosives.

Brandy McCann, manager of Patriotic Fireworks in Pasco County, said the M-90 firecracker is not as powerful as the better-known M-80. But it can still do considerable damage, she said.

"Those things can be very powerful if you light them while they are all together," McCann said.

A Citrus County Sheriff's Office report on the incident says that the explosives were analyzed for fingerprints but none were found. "The case is inactive pending new developments, and no suspects were named," said sheriff's spokeswoman Gail Tierney.

The Sheriff's Office has no report of the motor home fire, Tierney said. Boyd said he did not report it to the Sheriff's Office because the state fire marshal's office investigated the fire, and he assumed it would communicate with law enforcement.

Boyd said the fire investigators told him that the model of motor home he owned had been the subject of a recall because of wiring problems in the microwave oven.

The incidents did not surprise at least one neighbor.

"The family has dark skin, and some people around here would not like to see that," said Dennis Beall, who lives across the street from the Boyds' house.

Beall, who is white, also noted that the couple are from the North, which may have caused some cultural conflict.

"White or black, there have been clashes (elsewhere in Citrus County) between Northerners and the locals," he said. "It's really a shame because (the Boyds) are really great people."

As for finding the culprits behind the fireworks, there are many potential suspects. During a typical home construction, dozens of workers and delivery people come and go over the course of several months. At night, the construction site is unsecured.

Craig J. Fiebe, the president of Lexington Homes, said the company has built thousands of homes and worked with dozens of subcontractors. Finding a particular worker from a project two years ago would be nearly impossible, he said. He declined to look up the paperwork on the project because he is now the only employee of the company, which has gone dormant in the slumping home building market.

Fiebe denied that he or anyone from Lexington Homes laughed off the firecracker incident. "I had no idea this was going on," he said, adding, "but it doesn't surprise me."

Fiebe noted that this is not the first time he has heard of racial-related housing sabotage. "I had a Middle Eastern family buy a home from me in Pinellas County," he said. "They had the same racial problems because of intolerant people."

Fiebe stressed that these incidents should not reflect on all of Citrus County or on Lexington Homes.

"I know there are some backward, racist people out there," he said. "But everyone in Citrus is not like that."

• • •

Connie Boyd remains in New Jersey while her husband travels back and forth to maintain the Pine Ridge house, which is assessed at $359,399.

The couple sold their Montclair home in anticipation of moving to Florida, and now they are renting a house while paying a mortgage on the Pine Ridge house. Boyd said the bills have put them on the verge of bankruptcy.

More than two years after the firecracker incident, while he waits for the housing market to improve, Boyd continues to look for whoever put the explosives in his home.

But not with the intention of doing them any harm, he said.

"I just want to know why someone would do this to us," he said. "Our dream was just shattered."

Citrus County home sits empty after owners report racism and threats 08/15/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 15, 2009 10:51pm]

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