A U.S. Navy veteran returned from surgery to discover an empty lot where his home previously sat. While military veteran Philip Williams spent six months recuperating from surgical complications in in Florida, Long Island town officials demolished his home after deeming it unfit for habitation.
This wasn't just a house that officials in the Town of Hempstead had demolished. It was the 69-year-old U.S. Navy veteran's childhood home. Williams had lived in the house since he was 6 months old.
And along with the home, Williams also lost all of his possessions and a lifetime of memories.
The veterans said many of the items in the home had been in his family since he was a newborn or had sentimental value, like his late wife's engagement ring, photos of his six children growing up and a model train set he had since he was a child. He lost all of his clothing, a bicycle he'd just purchased, dishes, silverware and other housewares.
"The town basically took everything from me," said Williams, who is now staying with a friend in Florida and has only two suitcases of belongings. "The town does not have a right to take all of my property, all of my possessions."
"I'm angry and I'm upset. It's just wrong on so many levels," Williams told the AP. "My mortgage was up to date, my property taxes were up to date...everything was current and fine."
The Navy veteran is now in the middle of a legal battle against the suburban New York town. He wants reimbursement — for the house and all the belongings inside.
How could this have happened?
Philip Williams needed knee replacement surgery and went to Florida for the procedure, so a friend could help with his recovery. Unfortunately, the U.S. Navy veteran developed complications from the surgery.
Williams developed infections that forced further surgery and heart complications. This left the military veteran hospitalized until doctors deemed him medically able to return home six months later.
According to town officials, neighbors had been complaining the house was in disrepair and a blight on the community. Hempstead officials, responding to those complaints, sent inspectors and determined the house was a "dilapidated dwelling" unfit for habitation.
Williams says he was never contacted and believes town officials thought his house was a so-called "zombie home" — a dwelling abandoned after foreclosure proceedings begin, but one not yet seized by the bank — and rushed to demolish it.
Town officials refuted the veteran's claims saying they followed the appropriate channels to contact Williams. They said they mailed letters to the home and to banks and also held a public hearing before going forward with the demolition.
But Williams contends he never received any of the notices and said he couldn't figure out why the letters were mailed to four separate banks where he never had accounts.
"I have no idea who those banks are," Williams said. "But they never contacted me in any way, shape or form."
And that's why his attorney believes that town's actions were illegal.
"Under the law, it should not happen," his attorney, Bradley Siegel said. "It's un-American. It just doesn't seem believable."
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