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Cleanup of Filthy House Is Set to Begin

Neighbors await the removal of garbage and human waste from an ill man's Westminster home. He was pleasant but troubled, they say.

May 18, 2003|Stanley Allison | Times Staff Writer

A week after firefighters removed Richard Patterson from his garbage-strewn home in Westminster, neighbors described him Saturday as a deeply troubled man who never got the help he apparently needed.

Patterson, 69, walked around his Galaxy Drive property barefoot and shirtless, his pants often undone, a neighbor said. His home and yard were a dumping ground for food containers, boxes and buckets filled with human feces and urine.

Over the years, police have been summoned to the home numerous times by neighbors who complained of the stench and vermin.

Patterson reportedly told police that he had no working plumbing in the house.

Next-door neighbor Michelle Merritt said she guessed that the pipes were clogged by garbage he had stuffed into them. She had called social workers and the health department, but "everyone said he was fine," she said.

The Merritts, who are expecting twins in September, recently added 500 square feet to their home but had the windows placed above eye level so they would not have to look into Patterson's yard.

"When you look at him you know something's missing," Merritt said. "He was living in absolute squalor. There are buckets of feces and urine in his house, piles of feces in his living room."

Neighbors said Patterson was pleasant, asked questions about landscaping and took seemingly harmless photographs of children who live on the block.

On May 11, firefighters responded to calls from neighbors who said they had not seen Patterson for several days. Authorities said they encountered waist-high debris inside his home, along with swarms of flies and gnats throughout the one-story house.

Patterson was taken to Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, where he was reported in critical condition. No other details were available.

Westminster police could not say whether he will be charged with any crime.

But police tape surrounds his home, and the city has issued an abatement order for the property to be cleaned up.

Crews are expected to begin the work Monday, police said. On Friday, workers were steam-cleaning Patterson's pickup, in which rotting vegetables and fruit had been stored, a neighbor said.

"I don't think he was a bad man," said Patrick Rutigliano, who lives several houses away. "I hope he gets the medical attention he needs and the house gets the attention it needs."

Rutigliano said he notified city officials about the smell and garbage almost as soon as he moved to the block four years ago.

As neighbors' complaints mounted, code-enforcement officers went to Patterson's home and he began to clean up his yard. But the effort was short-lived, Rutigliano said.

His 10-year-old daughter, Jaclyn, said she and her friends hold their noses when they ride their bikes past the house.

Patterson took photos of her and her friends, she said. He proudly showed them to the parents, boasting about his new digital camera, Rutigliano said. He added that he and other parents gently asked Patterson not to take pictures of their children. He complied, Rutigliano said, but was perplexed.

"I've spoken to him a couple of times," Rutigliano said. "He's a little disoriented. He asks a lot of questions about our landscaping, and how much we bought our house [for]."

Conditions at Patterson's house are similar to those found several years ago at the Huntington Harbour home of Elena Zagustin, a professor of civil engineering at Cal State Long Beach. Her garbage-filled house resulted in 69 health and safety violations in 1998. She disappeared before being sentenced.

Neighbors forced the home into a foreclosure sale, and the new owners took over the property in 1999. The controversy cost Zagustin her $301,500 house, her job as a professor and possibly $50,000 left over from the sale of her home.

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