A fire at a Bowie home spurred neighbors to urge city police and leaders to learn from what they described as a “known drug house.”
“It’s like a beehive. The beehive is gone and the bees are looking for somewhere to go,” said John Atler, 51, who lives on Spark Lane, not far from the Sandal Lane home that burned last week, at a public meeting Tuesday. “Everyone can tell you about the drug house. The day of the fire, 30 to 40 people pulled up to the house, and they didn’t know where to go.”
About 40 residents from the neighborhood gathered Tuesday night at the Kenhill Center to meet with city officials, including Police Chief John K. Nesky; Cpl. Bennie Henderson; Steve Roberts, head of code compliance; City Councilwoman Diane Polangin, who lives in the neighborhood; and City Manager David Deutsch.
Residents and officials spoke for two hours about what will happen to the property and how to ensure it doesn’t return as a hub for drug activity.
Roberts said the house is in foreclosure proceedings. If the house is left in its current condition, he said, the city will issue fines for failing to maintain the property and get approval to either demolish the remains or rebuild, which could take up to 18 months.
The two-story, single-family home at 12418 Sandal Lane was destroyed in an alleged arson Oct. 23, said Mark E. Brady, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County Fire Department. No one was injured in the fire.
According to deed records, Ilona Ruth Lee, 41, and her husband, Richard K. Lee Sr., 48,bought the home in 2003.
Ilona Lee is being held at the Prince George’s County Detention Center in Upper Marlboro on $2,000 bail and will face trial Oct. 31 on drug possession charges at the Prince George’s County Courthouse in Upper Marlboro, court and inmate records show. No lawyer was listed on her case as of press time.
Her husband, Richard Lee, was released from prison in Prince George’s about a year ago, after serving about five months for violating probation and posting a $45,000 bond. He was arrested while completing an outpatient, court-ordered drug rehabilitation program in Calvert County as part of a previous sentence for burglary, said Prince George’s County Department of Corrections officials. He faces trial in January on drug paraphernalia charges in Anne Arundel County.
He could not be located for comment by press time.
City officials said they have reached out to the Lees, but haven’t received a direct response. They are communicating through the Lees’ 17-year-old daughter, who, they said, is relaying information to her father.
From May 2011 to October 2013, city police responded to 50 calls at the house, including reports of drug use, drug sales, domestic abuse and loud noise, Nesky said.
The house has been subject to three police raids, the most recent on Sept. 26, in which illegal drugs allegedly were found and arrests made. Last October, an 18-year-old from Silver Spring overdosed on heroin inside the house, Nesky said.
Before the fire, he said, police were building a case against the homeowners to present to the Prince George’s County state’s attorney’s office. The effort to build that case is on hold, he said.
“You have to have a lot of data, a lot of solid things for the state’s attorney to even take a look at it. I can’t go too deep into things,” Nesky said. “If we find out the folks at the house are trying to go back, we’ll get to the state’s attorney, so we’ll have paperwork waiting for them.”
Residents voiced concern that former “drug customers” would relocate nearby or start squatting on the property, continuing to use and sell drugs in the neighborhood. They also said they feared more arson fires or getting caught in the middle of a conflict between drug dealers.
Nesky responded by promising residents an increased police presence and focus in the area.
“They’re going to find a new place to land. It’s just a matter of where,” he said. “We’re going to put the house on an aggressive area check to deter squatters. ... If you see the guys sniffing around, call us.”
Julian Martin Massiah, 21, of Bowie was charged with arson Oct. 24 in connection with the fire and was being held Wednesday at the county detention center on a $150,000 bond, county fire/EMS officials said. Massiah could not be reached for comment, and no lawyer was listed on his case as of press time.
“He was known to the house,” Nesky said, adding that Massiah was present at the house during the latest police raid in September.
The case is pending investigation by the state’s attorney’s office, Brady said.
During the September raid, police seized heroin, marijuana and various drug paraphernalia from the house while also arresting Ilona Lee and charging her with drug possession, according to a Bowie police report.
“We will take every legal step we can to clean this up as soon as possible,” Deutsch said. “We ask for your patience.”