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Augusta nears end of options in trailer fire lawsuit

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The city of Augusta is running out of options in trying to keep from a jury a civil lawsuit on the 2006 trailer fire deaths of a young couple.

A fire broke out in the kitchen of Ryan Holt, 19, and Michelle Borror, 20, on Aug. 22, 2006. The couple had moved into the 37-year-old rental mobile home Aug. 1.  STAFF/FILE
A fire broke out in the kitchen of Ryan Holt, 19, and Michelle Borror, 20, on Aug. 22, 2006. The couple had moved into the 37-year-old rental mobile home Aug. 1.

On Tuesday, the Georgia Supreme Court rejected the city’s request to appeal a 2010 ruling by Judge Carl C. Brown Jr. that denied it protection from the lawsuit under the legal principle of sovereign immunity.

The suit was filed by the families of the couple, who died less than a month after a city electrical inspector approved reconnecting electricity to their home.

Ryan Holt, 19, and Michelle Borror, 20, died Aug. 22, 2006, when a fire broke out in their kitchen during the night. They had moved into a 37-year-old rental mobile home Aug. 1 after the city’s chief electrical inspector, Lewis Vann, reported finding the trailer suitable for electrical service.

Georgia Power, which was also named as a defendant in the families’ lawsuit, settled out of court, as did one of two landlords.

The city legal bills had already topped $500,000 before the Augusta Commission voted to appeal, first to the Georgia Court of Appeals, where it lost last year, and then to the Georgia Supreme Court. The city can now ask the U.S. Supreme Court fowr permission to appeal, reach a settlement with the families or go to trial in Columbia County Superior Court, where the lawsuit was filed because one of the landowners is a resident of that county.

In court, the city has claimed that Vann, who never went into the couple’s trailer, didn’t have to enter the home to do a proper inspection and that there is no way to determine what caused the fire.

The plaintiffs contend that the professional standards and the city code required an in-house inspection to ensure the presence of working smoke detectors and no obvious signs of potential fire hazards.

In his order denying the city’s claim of sovereign immunity, Brown wrote that there are facts that a jury should decide.

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raul 04/27/12 - 06:20 pm
the city should have settled

the city should have settled this one from the get go.

gaj265 04/28/12 - 10:11 pm
I'm very sorry that these

I'm very sorry that these young people died in the fire. But their families need to stop trying to collect on it.

raul 04/27/12 - 10:24 pm
I would think most people

I would think most people would think an electrical inspector would actually do a physical inspection. I don't agree with tort laws, as written, but until they are changed, you will continue to have litigation. Just read, the family of Yeardley Love, the lacrosse player killed by her boyfriend, is suing his family for 30 million dollars.

Iwannakno 04/27/12 - 11:48 pm
The owner didn't die in the

The owner didn't die in the fire...try reading the entire article if you want to comment. The renters died in the fire.

curly123053 04/28/12 - 08:39 am
gaj265, the owner of the

gaj265, the owner of the trailer did not die in this fire. The ones who died were a young couple who had recently rented the trailer from the owners. The city did not conduct an in-house inspection as they should have before signing off on this trailer to have power hooked up.

dstewartsr 04/28/12 - 08:50 am
I installed mobile home

I installed mobile home services years ago; we would have to leave any buried cable uncovered, all installed panel covers and boxes open, and certify to the inspector that the proper anti-corrosive was applied if dealing with aluminum service entrance wire. These inspections were for the most part perfunctory, but I do remember sitting around several times for the inspector. Only when the service received its sticker would the power company install the meter.This was in Richmond, Burke, and Columbia counties.

nocnoc 09/01/12 - 08:49 pm


JRC2024 04/28/12 - 10:43 am
The city should not be held

The city should not be held accountable. How can you prove they did not leave something on the stove,(says it started in the kitchen) a faulty lamp or anything else that may cause the fire. To think that GA Power could be at fault is just not right. The deaths are tragic but the trailer was 37 years old.

Casting_Fool 04/28/12 - 10:54 am
I've worked in manufactured

I've worked in manufactured housing maintenance (read "mobile home") for over 30 years. There are many things that could go wrong in a home built in 1975, but the primary one would be the possibility that it had aluminum wiring, a really bad idea at the time.

Aluminum wire expands and contracts a lot more than copper wire does. As a circuit pulls more electricity through the wire, it heats up and the wire expands (literally gets bigger), then the wire shrinks back down when the circuit is turned off and the wire cools.

This has the effect of eventually loosening the connections where the wire is attached to switches and receptacles or held together with wire nuts.

Before I bought my own manufactured home, I rented a manufactured home built in 1963, with aluminum wiring. What a nightmare. I finally settled on a program of going around once a year and tightening up all of the connections at each receptacle and switch. Especially after two frightening incidents.

The first was when I went to change a bulb in a nightlight plugged into the same receptacle as the washing machine, The receptacle was burning hot to the touch. I removed the cover from the receptacle to find that over the years the wires on the receptacle had loosened and the screw that held the wire to the receptacle was red hot, destroying the receptacle and requiring it's replacement.

(Quick electrical lesson. A loose wire in a live circuit creates resistance where the wire is loose, and resistance creates heat, lots of heat.)

The second incident was my coming home one night to smell burning in my home. Could not trace it back to anything, but could smell it very strongly. Looked for quite a while until I narrowed it down to the hot water heater space in a closet in the back bedroom.

At one point, I had replaced the hot water heater with a larger one (25-gallon to 35-gallon upgrade) that had the same electrical rating as the old one, but I made the stupid mistake of connecting the copper wire leads on the new water heater to the aluminum wire in the home (a no-no.) As I removed the panel concealing the very dark space, I could see a red glow in the darkness.

The wire nut holding the copper wire to the aluminum wire was "charcoaled" and glowing bright red with heat. Even though I'd twisted the wires together very tightly, the current running to the water heater had loosened the wires enough to create resistance and nearly burn my home to the ground.

I replaced the connections with a plate that had separate screws for each wire and eliminated the copper to aluminum connections. After that incident, I couldn't wait to get out of the rental and into my own copper-wired home.

If this fire started in the kitchen, there are so many possibilities of what could have started the fire that I do not understand how this could have gone to court. Faulty appliances, something left on (like a pan with grease in it on the stove), an electrical fault like I've described above, which incidentally would not have been visible to the inspector.

At present, leaving buried cable uncovered, installed panel covers and boxes open, making sure that the proper anti-corrosive was applied (if dealing with aluminum service entrance wire), and checking for working smoke detectors is only done if the home has been newly set up on a lot.

Currently, manufactured homes that are already set up get no inspection, leaving the owner with the responsibility to make sure that the home is electrically safe. If the smart meter is on I believe that they can even turn the power on remotely. Since this is a rather recent change (only in the past few years), I wonder if this fire and the young couple's deaths had anything to do with it.

If you live in a manufactured home ("mobile home"), or a house with aluminum wiring, have your wiring inspected every year. With the power OFF, have each switch, receptacle, and other connection point opened up and check each screw and connection point for tightness.

The life you save by doing this preventative maintenance could be your own.

SGT49 04/28/12 - 05:17 pm
Thanks CF. Great info.

Thanks CF. Great info.

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