Break-ins after fire ruin chances of saving couple’s home

Tribune Chronicle photos / R. Michael Semple Retired steelworker Eldred Davis and his wife, Ruth, both 81, said they are saddened by the vandalism that occurred at their Southern Boulevard NW home after it was damaged by a fire.

WARREN — When Ruth Davis, 81, heard someone knocking outside her home in the very early morning of Sept. 16, she said she  nudged her sleeping husband awake to investigate the cause.

Eldred Davis, 81, walked toward the kitchen of the ranch home on Southern Boulevard NW to find smoke and flames in the home’s basement ready to rise to the dining room area, she said. He retreated to get his wife, and they held each other as they stumbled toward the front door.

The source of the banging, a neighbor trying to wake the couple, pulled them out of the front door as fire truck sirens wailed in the distance.

The blaze caused an estimated $25,000 in damage to the home the couple built in 1958, just a few years after they married. But the fire was only the start of the bad news the Davises would receive in the following weeks.

“In the days following the fire, we did not know what we were planning to do,” Ruth Davis said. “We had not made any decisions. We were still in shock.”

But over the next several weeks, the decision was made for them by vandals who repeatedly broke into the fire-damaged home to steal anything that had value.

Within a few days after the fire, someone stole the exterior central air condenser unit. Then on Oct. 1, the couple’s son-in-law reported to police the home’s front door had been kicked in and a 19-inch flat-screen television was taken from a bedroom wall.

By Oct. 11, the electrical box, furnace, hot water tank and other items were taken. Thieves also began taking the white aluminum siding from the garage; leaving it in the grass to collect at another time. On at least one occasion, when the siding was found and placed in the garage, thieves forced their way into the garage and took the siding.

A neighbor, Rose Taylor, said she saw people breaking into the home or lights inside the home several times.

“I called the police, but whoever was breaking into the house knew what they wanted and what they were doing,” Taylor said. “They would leave before police arrived.”

The ordeal has led the Davises to likely have the home demolished, said their daughter, Kim Welch.

“I became very angry as we learned about the break-ins,” Welch said. “I wanted to sit in here and wait for those who were coming in and stealing from the home my parents raised us in. They lived in this house for the majority of their married lives and made it a home for us and their grandchildren to visit.”

“The insurance company, Allstate, has worked with my parents, and they’ve come to a settlement,” Welch said.

People breaking into homes damaged by fire or vacant for other reasons is becoming all too common in the city, said Councilman Eugene Mach, D-7th Ward.

“We have to find ways to secure the properties,” Mach said. “It is important for neighbors to watch out for these properties and to report it when things are occurring. I know there are a lot of neighborhood associations that are taking the lead in this cause.”

Ruth Davis said she still is traumatized by what has transpired.

“There still are a lot of good people around here,” she said. “They really came together to help us during this time, and we appreciate everything everyone has done.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation. Initial reports indicate the fire may have been caused by an electrical short.