Demolition of public housing complex where 2 died starts

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Workers are preparing to start the demolition of an 80-year-old South Carolina public housing complex where two men died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a poorly maintained heater.

The 400 residents of Allen Benedict Court in Columbia were never allowed back into their homes after the bodies were discovered and the neighborhood evacuated in January 2019.

Crews are installing fences around the project and will start removing asbestos, lead and other dangerous materials on Monday, the Columbia Housing Authority said in a statement.

Officials said they hope to have heavy equipment on site to begin tearing down buildings within two weeks and have the project finished by November.

Calvin Witherspoon Jr., 62, and Derrick Roper, 31, were found dead in separate units in the same building. Firefighters immediately checked all 244 homes in the complex and found unusually high gas levels in at least 65 units coming out of water heaters, stoves and other appliances.

Residents were evacuated and never returned as Columbia officials determined it would be better to just tear the complex down.

The Columbia Housing Authority was fined just under $11,000 earlier this year after pleading guilty to 24 safety violations including broken smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers as well as failing to do routine maintenance.