Friday, September 3, 2010

"Just Let Me Live My Life!"

Chicago Tribune reporter Kate Thayer's follow up to the Schaumberg Cluttered Lawn trial, evokes incredible sadness and despair at the spectacle of a pathetic and impoverished resident defending his way of survival.

"A sad and angry John Wuerffel asked jurors Thursday to just let him be while Schaumburg officials argued in an unusual trial that his property is so cluttered as to be hazardous. 'Leave my dog and me alone,'  Wuerffel, 62, said tearfully. 'Just let me live my life – what’s left of it.'

When neighbors and village employees testified that the property could attract rodents, bugs and catch fire and needed to be cleaned up, Wuerffel, acting as his own attorney, lashed back.  'What one man considers garbage, another considers treasure,'  he said, explaining that he raids garbage containers for bottles, cans and other recyclables he plans to return to other states for the 5- or 10-cent refunds. He said he cannot work due to a disability.  Jurors at the Rolling Meadows Courthouse will hear closing arguments Friday in what officials have said is the first such trial in a municipal case. Jurors must decide if Wuerffel is guilty of code violations and should be fined for his property in the 1400 block of Hampton Lane.

The village is seeking a court-ordered cleanup of the several inoperable vans in his driveway and the mounds of trash in the yard and throughout his three-bedroom home. But only the judge can issue such an order There have been two previous cleanups since 2008. After village employees explained those, Wuerffel said they'd stolen his property.

The trial, which began Thursday morning with jury selection, was interrupted several times when Associate Judge Hyman Riebman had to remind Wuerffel of the legal process. He is not eligible for a public defender because the matter is not a criminal case with jail as a possible outcome.  Wuerffel, who brought a black crow figurine to the defense table for good luck, often strayed from questioning witnesses, instead making statements of his own. He wheeled around the courtroom in an office chair and told the judge and jurors that he learned courtroom procedure by watching the O.J. Simpson case on television.

Wuerffel’s next-door neighbor for 26 years, Margy Bedyk, testified that the home he bought in 1971 only became a problem in the last four to five years.  'It’s filthy, disgusting; it smells,' she said, describing the last year as the worst.   Bedyk said she and her family have seen Wuerffel use his yard as a toilet. He began living in his yard and a van earlier this year after he was locked out of his home as part of a foreclosure process. The lock has been removed, but Wuerffel stays outside because he said the village has marked the house uninhabitable and there are no working utilities.

Public Health Officer Mary Passaglia testified that she’s been tracking the condition of the home since the court-ordered cleaning last year. She showed jurors photos of what she called the deteriorating property with mold and water damage, breaks in ceilings and clutter blocking hallways and entrances.  Fire inspector Bruce Buhrkey said the house is a hazard because the debris is combustible and passage almost impossible."
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Go ahead, defend your life, it isn't easy.  I'm represented, and yet I can not defend the clutter and disgusting neglect of my life's obligations.

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