By Linda N. Weller firstname.lastname@example.org
April 14, 2014
ALTON — A “nuisance” house that burned last week in Alton was the subject of a request police had filed asking a court to determine probable cause for forfeiture of the property.
On April 10 — the same day, and less than nine hours, after the fire was reported — a hearing was held on the request at the Madison County Criminal Justice Center in Edwardsville. A judge subsequently entered a finding for probable cause, said Stephanee Smith, spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office.
Monday, The Telegraph was unable to learn if the Alton Police Department plans to modify or drop the forfeiture process since the small bungalow at 2700 Residence St., was destroyed.
Authorities can seek forfeiture of cash, real property, vehicles and other items involved in drug sales or trafficking under the state Controlled Substances Act, Cannabis Control Act and Illinois Drug Asset Forfeiture Procedure Act.
Besides seeking the real property in the April 1 filing, Alton police requested the court approve forfeiture of $645 cash that detectives had seized from the home during a Nuisance Abatement Task Force “knock and talk” visit March 20.
The document says police also found about 1 pound of cannabis during the visit after the male resident allowed members of the task force to enter the house.
The filing also asks that the property and cash be held until conclusion of forfeiture proceedings.
While police technically are seeking the forfeiture, the People of the State of Illinois (Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons) is listed as plaintiff. Claimants are homeowner Christine B. Owings and tenant Joe H. Wade.
Fire and building and zoning officials said at time of the fire, Owings had been living elsewhere. Wade, 28, was in the process of moving out of the house, which a city inspector had posted as unfit for occupancy after the March 20 inspection. He also had cited Owings, 53, with seven building code violations.
In the meantime, a cause and origin team consisting of an Alton fire captain and detective continue trying to determine how the fire started. Investigators believe it ignited in the living room at front of the house.
“It is still undetermined, and still under investigation,” said Chief Bernie Sebold of the Alton Fire Department on Monday. “I am still waiting for information from the police department” regarding any interviews with Owings.
Someone called 911 at 4:15 a.m. to report the house fire. When firefighters arrived, the home was fully involved in flames, which were coming from the roof and out of windows on all sides of the structure. Four firefighters from the East Alton Fire Department provided mutual aid.
Firefighters had the fire knocked down within 10 minutes, but the house was destroyed and dangerous for fire investigators to enter, Sebold said. There were no injuries.
The home had been on the city’s nuisance property list because of drug sales, arrests and building code violations.
Following a raid, on May 4, 2012 authorities charged Owings and Wade with unlawful possession of cannabis with intent to deliver. Wade also was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon. A third man was charged with four felonies related to drugs and weapons.
At that time, eight people, including five children, were inside the 745-square-foot house.
On Dec. 5, 2011, three armed men burst into the house in a home invasion-robbery, with one of the intruders shooting two pit bulls. The dogs recovered from their surface wounds.
There also had been a previous drug raid at the house in Feb. 2007 involving different residents than those charged in 2012.
Regarding the seized cash, police claim in the filing it was related to drug sales since they located it in “close proximity to illegal drugs and/or drug paraphernalia”; claimant and his or her companion have a criminal history of drug-related arrests and/or convictions; amount of money was substantial and inexplicable by the claimant; claimants’ statements were inconsistent and lacking in veracity; they have no visible means of support; the property was used to deliver, or possess with intent to deliver cannabis or other illegal drugs.
The request also says: “Wade admitted to purchasing the cannabis and redistributing the same from the residence for profit. Owings admitted knowledge of Wade’s actions, but denied selling the cannabis herself.”
Linda N. Weller may be reached at 618-463-2559 or on Twitter @Linda_Weller.