Origin of suspicious Cedar Lake fire might not be possible to determine

2012-07-30T21:45:00Z Origin of suspicious Cedar Lake fire might not be possible to determineBy Diane Poulton Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
July 30, 2012 9:45 pm  • 

CEDAR LAKE | Investigators said because of the extent of damage it may be impossible to determine the point of origin of a fire last week that leveled a vacant Cedar Lake restaurant.

Fire Chief Todd Wilkening said the building in the 11000 block of 133rd Avenue, the site of the former Jo Jo's and Liberty restaurants, was destroyed July 23.

Firefighters from seven departments battled five hours to extinguish the blaze at the recently condemned restaurant.

The fire has been flagged as suspicious in origin. It had no working utilities.

Cedar Lake Police Chief Randall Mayersky said his department's investigation is continuing.

Property owner Danny L. Hammond, of Chicago Heights, on Monday told The Times there have been problems with vandalism at the site. Windows have been broken and a central air conditioning unit stolen.

He claims the town has impeded efforts to repair the building. He said even hiring a licensed, town-approved contractor to do the required repairs was not good enough to get a work permit.

Town Manager Ian Nicolini disputed Hammond's claims, saying the Cedar Lake Unsafe Building Committee had declared the structure unsafe and the town never received any plans of how Hammond was going to repair the building.

Hammond filed a lawsuit against the town of Cedar Lake in November 2011 trying to stop a previous demolition order. Cedar Lake requested dismissal of the lawsuit, which was declined, but judge left it open for the town to prove it gave proper notice to plantiff.

Hammond said he was home when the fire broke out at 2:31 a.m. July 23, but wasn't notified of it until 9 a.m., when he was called and told to secure the property within an hour.

"But there was nothing left to board up," Hammond said. "They haven't even contacted me about the cause and what is going on."

Nicolini said the insurance provider released the site for cleanup after completing its own inspection of the ruins. Because of the demolition order, town officials determined an emergency situation existed, he said.

Cedar Lake employees spent three days using town-owned equipment to clean the site. Nicolini said the town is in the process of determining the cost, which will be billed to Hammond.

Public records indictate the property taxes for the site were delinquent.

Meanwhile, Hammond said he has filed a consumer complaint with the Indiana Attorney General against Cedar Lake alleging discrimination by the town due to repeated refusals to grant a permit.

The complaint, a copy of which was provided The Times, was signed July 24.

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