When vacant house fell in West Baltimore, a retiree was crushed in his prized Cadillac

"Every day, he would come out and sit in that car," relatives said of man killed in collapse.

The retired truck driver cherished his aged Cadillac, cream-colored with red interior, usually sporting a coat of polish. He would just sit in it and listen to Otis Redding on the stereo.

On Monday, Thomas Lemmon, 69, was crushed when a vacant rowhouse collapsed onto the car near his home in the 900 block of N. Payson St. in West Baltimore. Lemmon died at the hospital, firefighters said Tuesday.

"Every day, he would come out and sit in that car," said his cousin Robert English.

Lemmon inherited the Cadillac from an uncle years ago, English said.

"He had been offered different amounts of money, but he always said 'I'm not selling,'" English said.

Sometimes, Lemmon would offer rides to people, no charge. He drove the neighbors: Cassandra Ervin to the store, Rashaad Whitfield to his job in Mount Vernon, Whitfield's mother to her work as a nursing assistant — a chance to show someone else his prized wheels.

On Monday, Lemmon was sitting in the car about 4:30 p.m. when the house collapsed. Down the block, English heard the crash and a neighbor shout, "The car blew up!"

Lia Brown, who lives next door to the vacant house with her children, was leaving for dinner at Golden Corral. As her son opened the door, they heard people screaming and hollering. "The house was shaking," she said.

The dust rolled up the block and toward Ervin. She said she ran toward the rubble and was throwing off the bricks. "He was unresponsive," she said.

The rowhouse had sheared off from the home next door. Maybe wind blew it down, Ervin said, but officials haven't given a cause. Bricks and cinder blocks and broken wood had crushed the car.

"All that stuff was laid onto it," English said. "It was about 15 or 16 of us, throwing it and throwing it off."

Lemmon was taken out by firefighters and died at the hospital.

There are about 16,000 vacant buildings in the city, according to the city housing department.

"That house was ... leaning. It wasn't even attached," said Antione Harris, another cousin.

He said he's angry it had not been demolished.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the city has a list of homes that are reinspected regularly. "We know that just because a house might be leaning slightly today doesn't mean in a month from now it won't be significantly different.

"Even with quadrupling the investment that we've made under my administration in demolitions in blighted and abandoned homes, we still don't have enough money to tackle the issue in a way I would like. ... We are dealing with decades of blight, abandonment and neglect and trying to re-prioritize our appropriations to address this in a comprehensive way. It didn't happen overnight, it's not going to change overnight and the needs are not stagnate. Just because I have a plan and we are working on it, doesn't mean that we're not constantly dealing with an increasing problem."

tprudente@baltsun.com

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