A call was made at 8:55 a.m. for one more walk-through to make sure the house at 1197 Spring Mill Drive was "all clear" and ready to meet its fate.
At 9 a.m. on the dot, a bulldozer ripped through the garage to begin the systematic demolition of the so-called Lilburn Meth House, where three young children perished last year in an explosion and resulting fire caused by a meth-making operation.
Neibi Brito and Joseph A. Perez were charged with the resulting death of Brito’s 3 small children – an 18-month old girl, a 3-year old girl and a 4-year old boy. A third suspect, Ivan Gonzalez is still at large.
There was no cheering when the structure gave way a little after 9:30, when the roof fell to the ground. Neighbors who came out to witness were mostly solemn but relieved to see the house come down. The tearing down of the house wouldn't erase the horror of what happened on Feb. 17, 2011, but at least the house will be removed. Perhaps there will be some closure.
Pamela Popham woke her two boys to witness the demolition. She has lived in the Spring Mill subdivision for 11 years and expressed she had many emotions about the demolition. Her hope is that something “new and good will be built on the site” and that a new family will move in. She expressed a sadness that children had lost their lives to this kind of ending.
For several years, neighbors had reported suspicious activities around the house. Though there was never any hard evidence of drug activity, none were very surprised that drugs were involved in the tragic fire.
“Cars were always coming and going,” said Popham.
Sue Burton, who has lived in the neighborhood for 27 years, was “thrilled” that the constant reminder at the entrance to the subdivision will be gone.
“A lot of neighbors worked very hard to get the bank to do something,” she said, referring to Chase Bank, which took over ownership. “They continually pushed the bank to either repair the property or tear it down.”
She said many went even beyond that and lent their hands to yardwork on the property to make it as appealing as possible. Her hope is for a green space at the entrance. Last week, the owner of the company contracted to take the house down said the site would be a green field in a couple of months.
DEA agents involved in the original investigation were on hand to see the house come down. They gave full credit to the community and neighbors whose significant efforts put pressure on Chase Bank to demolish the house. Boarded up, fire damaged and falling into further disrepair with each passing month, their goal was not only to protect property values, but to maintain a safe environment for families.
Gwinnett County Police Department officers watched the demolition, too.
"The neighbors here have been constantly reminded of the events that occurred here, so they are very glad to see it go," Cpl. Jake Smith said. "We're glad on their behalf that this will be removed and hopefully less of a reminder of the [tragedy]."
Previous Lilburn Patch articles on this case: