NEW! Tales from the Field, August 2015

This is a monthly segment that appears in Donan’s eNews. This feature will put some fun and entertainment into forensics. We hope you enjoy! If you do not currently receive our monthly eNews, sign up here!

Retirement Home 4When Forensic Engineering meets The Shining

By Stanton Smith, P.E.

I was called to inspect a commercial building which had been a retirement facility with perhaps 50 rooms for the retirees, as well as common rooms and service areas.  While the building was no longer in use as a retirement facility, the owner had elected to have a family live in the property as caretakers.  Although “caretaker” was the word which was used, I would have chosen a different word altogether.

The family lived in only one wing of the building, and each person apparently had chosen their own room for use as a bedroom.  The beds were twin mattresses on metal frames, and no other furniture was in the bedrooms.  Clothing and belongings were placed on the floor.  The word “placed,” however, implies a level of precision which was sadly lacking.  No trash cans were visible; open bags of trash, often ripe, were found throughout the building.

There were active roof leaks in several parts of the building.  Each leak was a long-term leak with extensive staining.  Molds and other water-loving growing things were thriving.  The building would have been a dream world for a mycologist.  (Our Word for the Day is mycologist: a botanist who specializes in the study of fungi).  Eeww.

The kitchen was a typical commercial kitchen measuring approximately 25 feet by 40 feet, with stainless steel counters, sinks, and shelves, and over-sized, heavy-duty appliances.  It had a full complement of pots, pans, and cooking utensils.  Every pot, pan, and utensil was dirty, often partially filled with decaying food, and was stacked on the stainless steel counters.  No surface was left uncovered.

Remember, the caretakers are a single family – perhaps five people.  I would need a work crew and a mission statement to reach the level of mess that these five people so thoroughly accomplished.

One of the largest rooms, measuring 50 feet by 75 feet, was the room where dogs had been kept.  My guess is that they stayed in the room during bad weather.  The following is not a guess:  they stayed in well beyond their bladder and intestinal capacities.  The door to the room was closed when we got to the property.  Upon opening the door, I may have had a seizure — it’s hard to be certain.  I know that my eyes watered, my stomach clenched, my breathing stopped, and I could not think clearly for a few moments.  Isn’t that a seizure?  I suspect the door had been closed as part of a life-saving effort.

Upon opening the door, I may have had a seizure — it’s hard to be certain.  I know that my eyes watered, my stomach clenched, my breathing stopped, and I could not think clearly for a few moments.  Isn’t that a seizure?

After having been violated to this extent, I finally found the dogs.  A rear section of the commercial lot was fenced.  The fenced area could be accessed through a sliding glass door, through which I could see three, adult, underfed pit bulls.  Great.  Pit bulls.  It couldn’t be golden retrievers or cocker spaniels.  Underfed, therefore hungry, pit bulls.  Why not just rub barbecue sauce all over myself and lie down outside?

My only salvation, and the reason I am able to share this tale today, is that the water bowl for the dogs was completely empty.  When I rinsed out one of the disgusting commercial cooking pots and filled it with water, then walked into the back yard and set the pot down, the dogs were so overwhelmed by having something to drink that they left me alone.

This story has hardly any point.  One point might be to tell the tale of the durability of humanity.  Humans can be exposed to decaying trash, mold, mildew, rotting food, urine, fecal matter, and starved hunting animals, and can live to strive another day.  The other point might be to tell all of you who complain about your desk jobs to quit bellyaching, or the field employees might start bringing back samples.


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