Sheriff's order destroys home

SAYS HE HAD NO OTHER CHOICE TO CLEAR NICHOLAS COUNTY HIGHWAY BLOCKED FOR NINE HOURS

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comNovember 19, 2008 

CARLISLE — There's little undisputed in this story, the tale of the tipped trailer.

Frances Barton's single-wide, the one she had fully paid $5,000 for and was hoping to move to a little piece of land she was buying on a $250-a-month land contract, is now literally in pieces on Jim Gaunce's front lawn.

And, everyone agrees, that leaves some 12 people — four adults and eight children ranging from 3 months to 12 years — facing Thanksgiving with no place to live.

How, exactly, the mobile home came to this odd resting place is where the story gets complicated. On Friday, Barton hired a guy to put her house on a trailer and move it up U.S. 68 in Nicholas County. When the trailer broke down and the house blocked the highway for hours on end, the sheriff got involved.

Barton, and the extended web of friends and family who lived with her, claim authorities didn't give them time to clear out a house full of furniture, much less clothing and the things that can't be replaced such as pictures, favorite toys and baseball card collections.

Barton's boyfriend, Alan Gaunce, no relation to Jim, said somebody — he's not sure who — told him he'd be shot if he didn't get out of the trailer before it was toppled. Barton, a grandma at 35 with gold streaks in red hair, tearfully contends that Nicholas County Sheriff Dick Garrett "showed no respect for my home" when he ultimately ordered two tractors to ram the thing and set it on its side.

On the other hand, Garrett, a wiry chain-smoker who ran for re-election with the slogan of "More 'Dick' in 2006," maintains that anybody who thinks it's a fine plan to pay somebody $200 to move their 25-year-old home, all their belongings, and a passel of pets with a farm tractor can't exactly complain when things go wrong.

"I know I wouldn't pay somebody $200 to move my house and everything in it," said Garrett, noting that the group didn't have a required permit or escort. Basically, he said, he could have arrested the lot of them: Barton, her brood and the hauler. The charge, he said: "being ignorant."

To be fair, the partial closing of U.S. 68 for some nine hours on a Friday night is pretty major in Nicholas County, where Garrett Tuesday was reviewing a Mayberry-like constituent call concerning a thwarted attempt to snatch a fresh cherry pie from a kitchen.

He said he did all he could think of to salvage the mobile home, but had to get the road clear. "It's a federal highway," said Garrett, who stood in the rain from roughly 4:30 p.m. Friday until 2 a.m. directing traffic with the rest of his force, a single deputy.

"I'm sorry it happened," he said, "I really am."

But, asked what he would have done differently, Garrett said, "I'd have knocked it over sooner."

Barton spent more than an hour Tuesday standing and crying next to a 10-foot-high pile of wooden walls and pink insulation, sometimes cradling her daughter's doll, one starting to show signs of black mildew after sitting in the damp remnants of the house. Over and over, she said, "Everything is gone. I've lost everything. It's all I had."

Barton, who helps manage the mobile park where she lived, paid for her home with a settlement from an automobile accident. It's the first home she's owned by herself.

She said she thought the man she hired to move her home knew what he was doing. Chris "Pancake" Meyers told her, she said, that he had more than 13 years' experience in hauling things and that he had the proper permits and insurance for the move. (She didn't ask to see proof of insurance or a permit, she said. Meyers could not be reached for comment Tuesday by the Herald-Leader.)

About 1½ miles into the move, the tires popped off. Sheriff Garrett said he's heard that somebody warned the group the tires would be loose and they should stop the move. He said Barton insisted on going ahead.

And soon found herself in front of Jim Gaunce's house on U.S. 68. Garrett said over the course of the evening, he did everything he could think of to get the house unstuck so it could be salvaged. But, he said, several of the well-intentioned efforts did significant damage to the house. For example, trying to push with one truck from behind while pulling from the front resulted in the hitch coming off and Barton's blue-walled bedroom being crushed.

Lee Roberts, owner of Roberts Heavy-Duty Towing in Lexington, said his company was called in to help. "We tried to pull the trailer back on the road but couldn't without tearing it to pieces."

When asked to push it off the road to clear the traffic flow, Roberts said he declined to do so.

That's when, Garrett said, he called on Meyers and another farmer with a tractor to tip the trailer.

He said he gave Barton and her friends and family at least two hours to get out what they needed and asked more than once if they had everything they wanted before he issued the order to push. Garrett said he didn't know how badly damaged the trailer might be, but thought he had no other choice.

Barton said she collapsed before the final destruction and was taken away by a friend, but Alan Gaunce said Garrett told him the cleanup was "all up to you, baby."

Garret said he has given Barton 10 days to clean up the mess. He's already talked to the county attorney about charges if the debris hasn't been removed. Even as looky-loos slowed while driving by the wrecked house and an increasing number of clumps of insulation littered Jim Gaunce's yard, Garrett said it's not the responsibility of the county to do the demolition or removal.

Without money, Barton said, she's relying on friends to dismantle and move the trash. At least two of the men working Tuesday said they took off time from their jobs on horse farms to help and are working with hammers, a sledge hammer and a chain saw. The Red Cross paid for a hotel room for a few days, but now Barton is on her own. The family, a mishmash of real kin and unofficially adopted kids, teens and young adults, are crammed into a smaller trailer while Barton tries to sort through it all.

Jim Gaunce, an amiable great-grandfather, watched most of it unfold from his rocker in a sunny living room with windows so spotless birds frequently thud into the glass while trying to fly through.

He's sympathetic to both sides and willing, he said, to be patient as the mess is cleaned up. He worries that the insulation might blow into nearby farms, get eaten by cattle and do some major internal organ damage, putting a dent in someone's livelihood.

But he knows one thing for sure. "Somebody," he said, sitting calmly as a chain saw roared, "is going to have to clean that thing up."

Staff writer Amy Wilson contributed to this report. Reach Mary Meehan at (859) 231-3261.

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