Judge feels for Dubbs, but says fines stand in Kulpmont debris case
SUNBURY - David Dubbs didn't get any further in county court in his quest for leniency over daily fines for not cleaning up debris from a fire that destroyed his Kulpmont home in January.
Following an hour-long summary appeal hearing Monday, Northumberland County Judge William H. Wiest found Dubbs guilty on 29 citations and ordered him to pay $23,608 in fines.
Wiest said he feels sorry for Dubbs, who has pleaded poverty, "but the ordinance is clear and the prosecution has met the burden of proof. The fines stand."
"I couldn't sleep the last two nights because of this," Dubbs, 60, said following the hearing. "This just makes no sense."
The 29 citations are the first of 91 that have been filed against Dubbs daily for the past three months. In all, he owes fines and court costs totalling $85,608.50. The Kulpmont property is at 916 Chestnut St. (Route 61). He has been living with his sister in Shamokin since the fire.
He has been found guilty at the magistrate level on three separate groups of citations. He has or plans to appeal in each case to county court, Monday being the first.
Three other homes were destroyed in the Jan. 28 blaze, but the property owners have since cleaned up and graded the properties.
Kulpmont solicitor William Cole called one witness, code enforcement officer Russ Moroz, who is citing Dubbs daily for "dangerous structures."
Moroz told the court that he hasn't seen any movement to clean up the property since January.
"It's been an inconvenience for the residents because the people are living with the smell, the sight. It is spilling out onto the sidewalk," Moroz said. "At one point, people had to walk on the street to get around it."
Under cross-examination, Dubbs, acting as his own attorney, asked Moroz about the angles of the photos of the pile the borough entered as evidence, producing a News-Item photo and asking him to compare.
"Doesn't it appear that the pile is higher in your pictures than in these from the paper?" Dubbs asked.
"It appears to be the same amount of debris," Moroz answered.
Dubbs tried to ask Moroz about who instructed the code enforcement officer to start fining him, but the question was struck down when Cole objected for relevance.
Dubbs, more forceful in his defense Monday than at the magisterial proceedings, asked Moroz, who has been on the job since May, "Can you prove that all the debris on the pile is just from my home?"
"No, I cannot," Moroz replied, noting the other properties were cleaned up before he was hired.
'Pile, not a structure'
Dubbs' testimony started with his claim about a statement Mayor Myron Turlis made to him soon after the fire, but before he could say what that was, Cole objected, calling it hearsay. That objection was also sustained.
Dubbs has said previously that Turlis told him to sign over the property for $1 in order to have it cleaned up. Dubbs said he was insulted by the notion of being asked to "give up what's left of my life for $1." Turlis has replied that the borough simply wants it deeded over so it can get funds to clean it up for the benefit of neighbors and the community.
At Monday's hearing, Dubbs continued, "I am aware of the debris, I just can't understand when I lost everything and get a minimum amount of money to live, they are fining me an exorbitant amount I can't pay."
Cole objected again, asking for relevance. Wiest agreed, saying the information sounds more like Dubbs' closing argument.
Soon after, it was time for closing arguments. Dubbs spoke first.
"I am aware of the debris and I, myself, wish it would go away," he said. "I visited Pat Mack (county planning department director) earlier today to see if there are any financial means available through the planning commission. He said he would get back to me."
Dubbs said Kulpmont is looking to give the property away since it's been stated that the borough has no interest in it.
"If the only way they can get money to help clean it up is to sign it over, and they have no interest in the property, why won't they give it back to me (afterward)? I just want to store my belongings in my shed and not have to pay storage fees," Dubbs said.
Cole, during his closing argument, asked Dubbs, "You mentioned the home and belongings were worth $50,000, but you had no insurance on it?"
"I couldn't afford it," Dubbs said.
"You don't agree that you have a dangerous structure?" Cole continued.
"It's a pile, not a structure, and it's only dangerous to someone who trespasses on it," Dubbs answered.
In his closing statement, the solicitor said Kulpmont is in no position to help.
"Kulpmont does not have the financial means to clean up residents' properties, and would be setting a dangerous precedent for doing so," he said.
Dubbs has vowed to fight all of the citations, but still says he's looking for compassion.