Nuisance Property finally demolished after 251 days

In the early morning hours of July 16, 2022, the house at 205 West Lincoln caught fire and suffered extensive damage.

Neighbor Daryl Howard provided the Sapulpa Fire Marshal with video evidence of an unknown person on a “dark” bicycle racing away from the residence minutes before the fire erupted.

However, arson investigators could not conclusively prove any arson was involved, therefore the insurance company subsequently settled with the property owner and landlord, James Ray Fitzpatrick.

The mailbox is seen in front of the house at 205 W. Lincoln Avenue, which was finally demolished after 251 days.
(Charles Betzler Photo)

Approximately 45 days later, on September 7, an abatement hearing was held and Mr. Fitzpatrick was present. Nikki Howard, Urban Development Director, gave James Ray Fitzpatrick 5 days to secure the property, and 10 days to clean up trash and debris. She said he had 30 days to have a letter from the insurance company stating he would rebuild, or the house would be demolished.

Daryl Howard, who lives across the street from the property, observed a gentleman picking up trash and debris and then tossing it over the fence into the backyard of the property.

On October 5, 2022, the Sapulpa Times took photographs of the rear of the house and the backyard which shows that there was no back door on the house, the backyard was filled with trash and debris, and the gate in the backyard fence was standing open.

Later that morning, the Sapulpa Times spoke to Nikki Howard and Building Inspector Mark Stephens, informing them of the status of 205 West Lincoln. Nikki Howard said the City was waiting on a letter from the property owner’s insurance company. Stephens immediately spoke up and said that he had received an email the day before from the insurance company stating they were “paying the claim.” Stephens was asked if that meant the property was going to be restored, and Stephens replied that would be up to the homeowner. The Sapulpa Times was then told that a letter would be sent out giving Mr. Fitzpatrick another 30 days to either obtain a construction permit or a demolition permit. Stephens also said he would contact Fitzpatrick about the two conditions that had not yet been met.

Daryl Howard, who lives across the street from the burned-out home, told the Sapulpa Herald that demolition work began on approximately November 20, 2022, and ended December 2022.

It should be noted that the demolition work performed did not comply with instructions set forth by the City Inspector.

The Sapulpa Herald went to the City Inspector’s office to ask why Fitzpatrick was still not in compliance. Stephens was not in the office, but his assistant left a message for Stephens who, along with Code Enforcement Officer Nick Erickson, went back to 205 West Lincoln, resulting in the January hearing for the property owner.

Nick Erickson addressed Nikki Howard, stating: “The property condition as of 1/17: no changes in regard to dilapidation. Mr. Stephens and I have met with the property owner over there on numerous occasions to discuss what needs to be done to bring it into compliance.”

Nikki Howard’s response was: “what bothers me about this is that worse than the dilapidation is the nuisance it’s become to that neighborhood.”

She then asked if there was anyone who wished to speak regarding the property.

Sandi Howard, who lives at 126 West Lincoln, went to the podium and explained the situation from the neighborhood’s point of view. She lamented how beautiful the house in question had been for nearly a century and expressed frustration about the lack of a timely remedy to the problem.

The Sapulpa Herald interviewed Daryl Howard, Sandi’s husband, after the hearing. He expressed concern for the people that were going in and out of the damaged structure. “Everybody has been wary of the traffic, day and night, in and out, bicycles in the dark, with no lights and no reflectors, people going back and forth with luggage…I have called the police many times about what I call ‘scavengers’ at 205 after it burned.”

The property owner, James Ray Fitzpatrick, and Floyd Thomas stepped up to the podium. Thomas, who stated he took care of Fitzpatrick’s properties, told Nikki Howard: ”What I’m trying to do is get somebody to let me put a roof back on the house. I have got some guys that’s gonna put a roof on there for us….I thought I had it secured with boards all over it where kids can’t get in it…I did clean up the outside trash and stuff…I would like someone, to you know, give us the go-ahead where we could put a roof on the house.”

Mark Stephens immediately responded: “Mr. Fitzpatrick was told that you have to remove the roof completely, none of the roof structure is allowed to remain. You have to remove the whole back section of the house, all the walls have to come down, and everything has to go. You can keep the front couple of rooms that have no fire damage. Any wood that has any fire damage on it whatsoever has to be removed.”

Thomas then asked Stephens if he had seen the property lately. “I have seen it multiple times,” replied Stephens.

Thomas asked for guidance on what needed to be done to comply, and Stephens said he would meet him at the property to go over the instructions. Fitzpatrick then said he had a hearing aid and could not hear the conversation, which Stephens acknowledged and spoke slowly and directly, reminding him that he and Fitzpatrick had had several conversations about what needed to be done to obtain a remodeling permit.

Nikki Howard then spoke to Fitzpatrick and Stephens: “I have a couple of things to say before you all make a deal. What percentage of that house is burned out? What is the percentage you think that has to be torn down?” Stephens replied that 60 to 70% of the house is gone.

“So we are (swiftly) approaching the dilapidated stage, and we have been real, real patient with you. I feel horrible for your neighbors, I feel horrible about the condition you allow that house to be in. I feel badly that you let people come and go that have no business in there. To me, that house has become a nuisance, and it needs to be torn down, so you have 30 days to tear it down,” Nikki Howard sternly told Fitzpatrick.

Nikki Howard refused to hear anything else from Fitzpatrick about remodeling the property. “You have been saying that for months,” she said.

Fitzpatrick was then given 10 days in which to file a written appeal with the City Manager.

The City Manager denied the appeal, but it bought Fitzpatrick more time. According to Code Enforcement Officer, Nick Ericsten, after the appeal was denied, Fitzpatrick told the City he had contracted with Carr Construction but could not provide any written proof. The City contacted the company and was told there was no contract in place.

At his point, Fitzpatrick was told he had only a few days to provide proof of a demolition contract, or the City would tear the house down and place a lien on the property.

The property owner never provided any proof of a demo contract, and the City took action. On March 22, Daryl Howard received the following response from the City of Sapulpa:

“205 W Lincoln Ave has been turned over to K&T Demo to be removed. The City has ordered the Utilities to be removed by OG&E and ONG. K&T has called in locates (this takes 3 days, and yes I know that locates were called in prior by the property owner but due to liability issues the person doing the work has to call their own locates) and has it on schedule to be removed.”

The following day, K&T Demo came out with a mini excavator and razed the house, and Monday, March 27, finished the demolition and hauled the debris off in large roll-off containers.

Now, as the late Paul Harvey would say: Here is the rest of the story:

The property in question was purchased by Mr. Fitzpatrick in 2015, and he moved into the house. A few months later, he was the victim of a home invasion/robbery allegedly carried out by a girlfriend and her accomplices, who were later arrested. Once out of the hospital, Fitzpatrick moved, turning the house into a rental property. 

From that time forward, the neighborhood witnessed people coming and going all hours of the night, people on foot and on bicycles bringing bulging backpacks, going into the garage and coming out empty-handed. Conversely, many people came to the residence with nothing on them and left with everything from backpacks to bicycles. Howard witnessed bicycles being deposited in bushes by one person, and later retrieved by another person.

In 2019, four suspects were arrested at the residence as part of a federal sweep of violent offenders. Many of the people who came and went were known to be local petty criminals. At least one neighbor has someone mistakenly come to her door in the middle of the night thinking it was 205 West Lincoln. One of the renters had a pit bull that was eventually euthanized after terrorizing the neighborhood for many months.

Even after the house burned and was just a hulk, people still occupied the residence and scavenged items from the property.

Daryl Howard has called the police repeatedly and has amassed 36 GB of information pertaining to the suspicious activity that continued to occur until the two structures were torn down.

As a matter of fact, the demo company came a few days early to keep people from staying in the house or garage.

It should be noted that at one of the tenants has been arrested more than once on drug charges and that before the house and garage were demolished, the crew inspected the premises to make sure no one was in either the house nor the garage and found crack pipes and empty cans of gold spray paint in the garage (Note: gold spray paint is inhaled in order to reach a “high”).

At long last, the nightmare is over for the neighbors of 205 West Lincoln, but at a cost of several thousand dollars to local taxpayers.