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CHRIS ZOELLER, Globe Gazette 

An overpass that would run 1,500 feet down the Avenue of the Saints has been proposed at the at-grade intersection at Floyd. T.J. Houdek, 23, of Charles City, was killed in a crash at the intersection in 2016. 

'Everyone needs to be warned': Parents of man who died at Floyd intersection file lawsuit against the state

The parents of a Charles City man who was killed in a motorcycle accident near Floyd in 2016 have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the state of Iowa and Iowa Department of Transportation for negligence in the design of an intersection on Avenue of the Saints.

Houdak lawsuit

Thomas and Diane Houdek filed the suit Dec. 21, claiming the state and Iowa DOT is responsible for “negligent design and gross negligence if its employees in administering this intersection that caused the death of our son.”

T.J. Houdek, 23, was traveling from Quarry Road and entering Highway 18 northbound on his Harley-Davidson on July 18, 2016, when his motorcycle and a semi collided. Houdek died at the scene, and the semi rolled, injuring the trucker.

The Houdek family filed the suit after another fatal crash Dec. 19 at the intersection of Highway 18 and Quarry Road near Floyd.

Troy Reams, 40, of Greene, was driving a 2017 Ford Fusion at about 5:30 a.m. eastbound on Highway 18 when it rear ended a semi. Reams was pronounced dead at the scene.

After T.J. Houdek’s death in 2016, local residents started an online petition to the DOT and spoke out at meetings about the intersection. Residents asked for an overpass and a project was approved.

According to the Iowa DOT, the intersection will be re-designed and will feature an added overpass. However work may not start until 2022 and the project is expected to take several years after that.

“We call again for the immediate reduction of speed and the placement of a warning signs (sic),” the family said in a release.

The family cited the Highway 330/65 intersection in Jasper County which is similar to the Floyd intersection. In Jasper County, there is an orange sign that reads “Intersection ahead/Multiple fatalities/Use caution.”

The Houdek’s believe the speed on Highway 27 should be reduced to 45 mph or less along with more road surface marks, like paint, altering drivers of the speed limit and preventing drivers from changing lanes.

“No one needs to face a tragedy over this trap and everyone needs to be warned about this dangerous intersection,” the release said.

The Houdek’s attorney, David Skilton, stated that the DOT failed to design an intersection that was “safe and free of design defects.”

Skilton claims the DOT failed to warn the public of the dangers of the intersection and failed to post signs informing drivers of the dangerous intersection.

“Instead of warning the public, the signage that was present gave a false impression that the intersection was normal and customary, which it was not,” the suit said.  

The suit also called the intersection “a trap for the public.”

The suit further claims that the state knew the intersection was dangerous and did nothing about it.

The state has not responded to the suit. The Houdak's are demanding a jury trial. No court date has been set.

Photos: Buckle up, drive safe - 101 North Iowa crashes

Photos: Buckle up, drive safe - 101 North Iowa crashes from the past 20 years

breakingtop story
Judge ends injunction in shuttered Mason City apartment case; residents sent packing

MASON CITY | A temporary injunction filed on behalf of residents in the former Regency Terrace Apartments – now Key West – was ended by Second Judicial Court District Judge DeDra Schroeder. 

The case was kickstarted in early November 2018 when the city "white-tagged" the complex for "health and safety concerns" during inspections following the sale of the property to Quad Cities Accommodators LLC in late-October. That initial move sent 30 or so residents packing almost right away while about a dozen stayed behind.

Attorneys Diane DiPietro Wilson and Michael Byrne, who were working on behalf of several of the apartment complex's residents, then filed a temporary injunction with the court on Nov. 19. That move effectively kept the remaining tenants from Regency Terrace in their homes while they looked for new housing options (those on HUD, including military veterans, had 30 days).

In a hearing for the case Dec. 17, city attorneys Hugh Cain and Brent Hinders argued that such a move was "illegal" and enjoined the city from "its legitimate powers to protect the health and safety of citizens."

Schroeder, the judge, found in favor of the city's argument which hinged on evidence that asbestos materials were contained in the apartment complex and lead paint was likely. 

"The remodeling and reconstruction at the apartment complexes has disturbed asbestos, probable lead paint, and mold in the buildings," Schroeder wrote. "It is evident that danger and harm is probable with continued occupancy of the apartments."

Though several of the residents of Regency Terrace alleged that the tags were "vague" and failed to disclose specific hazards, Housing Inspector Raymond Quayle testified in court that "nothing in the ordinance that requires advertising every hazard on an actual placard."

Photos: White tags force Mason City renters out of homes

The judge concurred. She noted in her ruling that it was unlikely for the petitioners to "succeed on the merit of their claims" because the housing code was followed when the complex was white-tagged by Quayle.

Wilson, the attorney for the tenants, repeatedly raised issues with this particular action and worried that the city's power was a bit too broad.

"The city ordinance is really vague about setting up the amount of power the housing inspector has," Wilson said. "My concern is to what level should a person be deprived of their homes."

No appeal has been filed which complies with the specific requirements of the code. The tenants are still able to request a hearing with the Mason City Housing Authority but that wouldn't be until after they have already been moved out. 

But Wilson, who has worked with Iowa Legal Aid for 15 years, reiterated that the ordinance is "confusing as to how to file an appeal."

"The city needs to look at the requirements and spell them out, they're pretty convoluted," she said.

At this point the named petitioner in the case, Lyle Laird, a Vietnam veteran, is still uncertain about what his next move is. He said that he's very disappointed with how it turned out and doesn't know how much time he has left. 

"I thought I was moving to Colorado, but I don't know how I'm going to get there," Laird said. "I'm just taking it day-by-day I guess."

Photos: White tags force Mason City renters out of homes

Photos: White tags force Mason City renters out of homes

CHRIS ZOELLER The Globe Gazette 

James Conway, a resident at Key West Apartments, formerly Regency Terrace Apartments, looks in December 2018 over the white tag placed on his door by a Code Enforcement official giving him 30 days to vacate his apartment.

Mason City dentist looks for temporary location to treat patients after New Year's Eve fire

MASON CITY | A Mason City dentist is working to find a temporary location to serve her patients after a fire destroyed her office on New Year’s Eve.

Dr. Noemi Cruz-Orcutt, owner of Mint Springs Dentistry, said she received a call about 6:20 p.m. Monday saying her office on South Taft Avenue was on fire.

It was shocking to get the call, she said.

Mason City Fire Department responded and extinguished the fire.

“Everything inside is destroyed,” Cruz-Orcutt said. “It will need to be gutted.”

No one was inside the building at the time of the fire.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. Cruz-Orcutt said the fire marshal was over at the office Friday to continue investigating. She said the cause seems to be electrical but they are still not sure.

“We’re working hard to find a potential temporary location,” she said.

She said she has to wait for the insurance and to sign a lease before they can get started moving equipment.

“It would probably take a month, more like five weeks to get set up,” Cruz-Orcutt said. “In the meantime, we’re working to find a dental office to work at to take care of urgent situations for patients."

The community of dental offices and her patients have supported Mint Springs since the fire. She is collaborating with other offices to see emergency patients.

“I’m very grateful for the outpouring of support and ‘How can we help?’ messages,” she said.

Cruz-Orcutt said other dental practices have offered to help by giving her room in their offices to continue to see patients.

“We’re working real hard,” Cruz-Orcutt said. “It’s not easy to get everything going.”

She said the temporary location will serve as their building until the original location can be fixed.

In addition to herself, Cruz-Orcott employs five other staff members. She has been operating Mint Springs out of that location for about three and a half years. The location has served as a dental office since 1996.

“I am, I will take care of my patients and we will provide the services they need and the same excellent care,” she said. “It will take some time and I appreciate their patience.”