COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Friday marks one month since 411 residents were forced to leave their Columbia apartments, only to find out a few weeks later they would never return to live there.
Residents of Allen Benedict Court Apartments were uprooted from their homes on Jan. 18, the day after two men were found dead inside their apartments. The Columbia Fire Department discovered significant gas leaks throughout the property, including levels of natural gas and carbon monoxide in all 26 buildings.
Since then, residents have been placed in hotels, many of whom have been bounced around to multiple hotels in a matter of days.
“When you’ve made someplace your home, regardless of what kind of area it may or may not be, that’s your home, that’s what you consider to be home,” resident Mercedes Wallace said. “That was my home.”
Work orders uncovered by WIS show 14 complaints about gas odors and potential leaks in 2018. One of those took place in building ‘J,’ where 30-year-old Derrick Roper and 61-year-old Calvin Witherspoon were found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning. The work order alleges in August of 2018 a lawnmower struck a gas meter outside the building, causing a leak. The meter was prepared and the leak was fixed, according to maintenance records.
Richard Young said he was Witherspoon's next-door neighbor, living in unit J4 and said the tragedy could have been prevented.
"You had to lose two people behind this, that could have been everyone who lived in that building," Young said. "That's how the housing authority do. It tries to cover stuff up and that's not right."
Young said some of his neighbors alerted the housing authority of an odor of gas repeatedly, some as recent as the Monday before the two men were found.
"The housing authority has this habit of pushing things to the side and not listening to what we're telling them," he said.
One woman who said she has watched her sister and four children go through the hardships of being uprooted is frustrated with the entire process.
"It's just very frustrating to know people are living like this and no one is doing nothing and then you have numerous work orders, complaints, things like that about the apartments," she said.
Mercedes Wallace said despite her struggles, she's at peace knowing her neighbors are in a better place.
"At the end of the day, they're in a better place because there is no carbon monoxide poisoning in heaven," she said.
The Columbia Housing Authority said it has provided section 8 vouchers to all residents who have attended an orientation. It also said it will not force residents out of hotels until they have secured a new place to live.
It faces five lawsuits in response to what happened at Allen Benedict Court apartments.