CASTLE HAYNE, N.C. (WECT) – Two properties on Velva Drive in Castle Hayne were condemned Wednesday after conditions were deemed unlivable. Investigators with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Coast Guard and state are looking into a pair of people who were living inside the homes.
Sheriff’s deputies initially went to a home on Velva Drive in Castle Hayne Wednesday morning for an investigation in connection with a simple larceny. After seeing the living conditions of Donna Simmons and Grady Harwell, a deeper investigation began.
“Once we began our investigation and arrived here and saw the conditions that the home was in, that prompted some secondary investigations as far as whether or not is was livable, who’s there, what’s there,” said Lt. Jerry Brewer with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office.
Investigators deemed it a serious situation and were able to get an environmental search warrant. The home had no electricity or running water. The yard was filled with trash and other items.
Detectives had to wear protective suits, masks, and gloves when entering the home.
“There’s bugs, there’s flying bugs,” Brewer explained. “There’s no sheet rock; everything’s been torn out. It’s just a very inhumane place to be in. So that was the seriousness of the environmental warrant to go ahead and investigate.”
According to investigators, there is a creek in the backyard of the home. Officials worry there has been illegal dumping in the creek, which could lead to the Cape Fear River, so the Coast Guard also responded to the investigation.
“We’ll have to do soil sampling to see if, or what, was dumped in the backyard,” Brewer said. “There’s a lot of things up here and there’s a lot of suspicion on possible drug activity that we’re investigating as well and that will also lead into testing of what is here.”
According to neighbors, the couple lived that way for several months, but there have been issues at that home for longer.
“It’s been a bad situation for many, many years,” said Joyce Benton who has lived on Velva Drive her entire life and has lived directly across from Simmons’ home for the last 15.
Benton said Simmons’ mother owned the home for years, but is now in assisted living, leaving the home, and the property next door, to her daughter, Donna.
“Day and night, people would come in and get their drugs and leave,” Benton claimed. “It was just constant activity. You knew what was going on.”
Benton says this road has always been a safe, quiet area of town and it was heartbreaking to see people living that way.
“We have felt it and seen activity with law enforcement building,” said Benton, adding that she wasn’t surprised when law enforcement showed up Wednesday. “They’re doing their job and we appreciate it.”
Both of Simmons’ properties on Velva Drive have been condemned.
“It’s been in bad shape for years,” said Brewer. “We’ve responded to complaints out here with dumping. This led up to today’s warrant being issued and the condemning of both homes.”
“I don’t understand how people can live that way,” Benton said. “My heart goes out to Donna and Grady because if they would have just accepted some help, they wouldn’t be where they’re at today.”
A Chihuahua was found inside the home during the investigation, so Simmons is facing animal cruelty charges. The dog is now in the care of New Hanover County Animal Control.
Simmons and Harwell are both facing larceny charges.
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