Highland puts brakes on haunted house

2012-10-24T21:00:00Z 2012-10-24T21:26:39Z Highland puts brakes on haunted houseChelsea Schneider Kirk chelsea.schneider@nwi.com, (219) 933-3241 nwitimes.com

HIGHLAND | A longtime Halloween tradition on 100th Place in Highland will not open this year after town building inspectors and state fire marshals deemed the haunted house an unsafe structure.

Jonathon Wheatley, 20, of Highland, has built a haunted house since the sixth grade and moved the operation outside three years ago.

In 2010, Wheatley built the haunted house months after recovering from a kidney transplant, where his mother, Jeannette Jennings, was his donor.

“We've had this every year, and they've never had a problem with it,” Jennings said. “Now they've designated it as an unsafe structure, and we can't let the public in. ... It's sad to say (with) all the work these kids have done. We've bought costumes and put so much money into this thing, and now nobody in the public can see it.”

Donations for the Humane Society were to be collected this year at the haunted house.

Highland Building Commissioner Ken Mika said his department learned of the haunted house through a newspaper article by The Times, and an inquiry by the state fire marshal's office began.

A second house on Laverne Drive will remain open this year after obtaining a state permit and passing a follow-up inspection, Mika said.

“Quite honestly, we weren't aware of any of these existing that may have been within a residence where the public actually has access to them,” Mika said.

“We are respectful of the fact that the homeowners, in good faith by having the haunted house, were trying to support charitable causes," he said. "The town still has the responsibility of ensuring the safety and welfare of the public.”

Mika said the town is working with the residents this year because of the time investment to build the haunted house. Next year the town will enforce zoning ordinances that bar the operations within a residential district.

Jennings said she was told her friends and family can still go through the haunted house at the family's annual party. The house, themed “The Dark Circus,” was set to open Friday.

“It's sad there's not more knowledge out there about what kids need to know if they want to run a haunted house,” Jennings said.

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