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Air Force officer is suing Largo over home loss

An Air Force officer, on overseas duty during Operation Desert Storm when the city of Largo tore down a dilapidated rental house he owned, is suing the city for the loss of the house.

According to a suit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Tampa, Lt. Col. Walter P. McMurtry claims the city violated the U.S. Constitution, the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act of 1940 and the Florida Constitution when it destroyed the house while he was on duty in Turkey.

McMurtry, who is acting as his own attorney, said in the suit he "received no notification of Largo's intended action until after he had departed the United States" for Turkey.

He asks the court to award him $18,900 in compensation for the house, which was at 370 Sixth St. NW. He also asks the city to remove a lien of $3,423.75, which was the cost plus interest for tearing down the house and removing the debris from the lot.

City Attorney Gerald McClelland had not received a copy of the suit Tuesday afternoon. But McClelland said he has corresponded with McMurtry several times since McMurtry appeared at a City Commission meeting last August to complain about the city's action.

"We believe the city acted correctly," McClelland said Tuesday. "We will be waiting to see the particulars of the case. He's certainly entitled to his day in court."

Records show McMurtry's house was torn down the week after Christmas 1990. The city's Code Enforcement Board approved the demolition after declaring the house uninhabitable.

Community Development Director Ric Goss said the city went far beyond legal requirements in attempts to notify McMurtry of the city's intent. Goss has receipts for certified letters signed by either McMurtry or a relative notifying him that the house "was not fit for human habitation" and would be razed if problems were not fixed.

In August 1990, McMurtry responded to one letter from the city. He said he was writing from a "remote area of Turkey." He asked the city to "cease and desist from molesting or destroying my home."

"Your hostile actions are most untimely," McMurtry wrote. "It would be ironic indeed if you destroy my home while I am over here fighting for yours."

McMurtry said in the lawsuit that he returned from Turkey in May 1991 after he was "diagnosed with positive indications for tuberculosis." Upon his return, he said he discovered the house had been torn down.

Although McMurtry never lived in the house full time, he has said he stayed there on weekends from time to time. His permanent residence is at 4517 Wescott Lane in Tampa.

Before the Largo house was razed, a city inspector took photos that show extensive termite damage, inadequate wiring, numerous electrical and plumbing violations, holes in the walls, no heating and no insulation.