Ala. business owner sues city for failing to put out fire, claims firefighter negligence

A 2018 fire destroyed more than 50 golf carts and sent four firefighters to the hospital with heat exhaustion


Eric Fleischauer
The Decatur Daily, Ala.

More than 10 months after a fire destroyed their golf cart business, with the fire’s cause still not determined, the owners have sued the city of Decatur based on firefighters’ alleged negligence in failing to connect to a nearby hydrant.

Decatur Golf Cars LLC and J&C Funding LLC, owners of the Modaus Road Southwest business that burned down in June, filed the complaint last week. Jimmy Johnson of Decatur is a principal in both businesses, according to records from the Secretary of State’s Office. The business has since moved to Beltline Road Southwest.

While the complaint by Decatur Golf Cars focuses on firefighters’ alleged failure to connect to a nearby hydrant, a written question served on the city with the complaint asks whether the hydrant was “taken out of service at any time prior to June 1.” (Photo/Decatur Golf Carts LLC)
While the complaint by Decatur Golf Cars focuses on firefighters’ alleged failure to connect to a nearby hydrant, a written question served on the city with the complaint asks whether the hydrant was “taken out of service at any time prior to June 1.” (Photo/Decatur Golf Carts LLC)

“The failure of the firefighters to successfully extinguish the flame … (was the) result of the firefighters using insufficient water,” according to the complaint filed by attorney Jerry Knight. “Notwithstanding the presence of a nearby, readily accessible fire hydrant, the defendants negligently, wantonly or intentionally failed … to connect to same and thereby allowed the destruction of the … building, its contents and golf carts parked outside the building.”

Decatur Golf Cars, which also used the name Decatur Golf Carts, was located at the northeast corner of Modaus and Shady Grove Lane. It was next to Cedar Ridge Golf Course until the course was sold to Decatur City Schools in 2014 as the location for the new Austin High School. The business stored, repaired and sold golf carts.

Decatur Fire Marshal Jason Jones last week said he could not comment about what caused the June 1 fire because the investigation “is ongoing.”

The Decatur Daily filed a public records request with the city Wednesday for any reports pertaining to the investigation. City Attorney Herman Marks said no such documents exist.

“There is no report indicating the cause of the fire on June 1,” Marks said. “It’s still being reviewed. They have not determined the cause of the fire. There is no document indicating the cause of the fire.”

While the complaint by Decatur Golf Cars focuses on firefighters’ alleged failure to connect to a nearby hydrant, a written question served on the city with the complaint asks whether the hydrant was “taken out of service at any time prior to June 1.”

The answer to that question, said Decatur Utilities spokesman Joe Holmes, is no.

“The hydrant was available and working properly during that time and at all times since,” Holmes said.

Other questions served on the city ask for the name and address of everyone "who participated in the efforts to extinguish the fire."

In its complaint, Decatur Golf Cars said it would later add as defendants "persons who failed to access or failed to cause to be accessed water from a nearby fire hydrant."

Fire Chief Tony Grande declined to comment on the fire until he consults with the city Legal Department.

Grande, on the day of the early-morning fire, said 50 to 70 carts were destroyed and the metal building was severely damaged.

“It’s likely a total loss,” Grande said then. “There’s a lot of destruction there.”

He said then that the cause of the fire had not been determined.

“Investigators will do a little more digging today to make sure they have it right,” he said on the day of the fire.

Four firefighters were taken to Decatur Morgan Hospital to be treated for heat exhaustion, and all were discharged, Grande said at the time.

The day after the fire, an entry attributed to Johnson, the business owner, was posted on his Facebook page.

“I want to THANK all the Firefighters that risked their lives to try and save our business and the buildings around us and I’m so glad the ones that went to the hospital are ok ... Our Decatur Firefighters are amazing!!” according to the post.

Knight declined to comment last week “beyond referring you to the complaint.”

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©2019 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.)

 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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