Harley owners sue Peace Free Will church after fire destroys bikes

Kelly Holleran Jun. 21, 2012, 1:37am

The owners of various motorcycles are blaming a church for allowing their vehicles to be destroyed by a fire after the church failed to provide adequate water lines to a fire department attempting to fight the blaze.

A total of 11 people claim their motorcycles were at Joe's Hawg Doc, a motorcycle repair shop at 3719 Horseshoe Lake Road in Pontoon Beach, when the building caught on fire on June 14, 2011. During the blaze, each of the motorcycles were destroyed, according to the complaint filed June 13 in Madison County Circuit Court.

In the fire, plaintiff James Tadlock lost his 1934 Harley-Davidson motorcycle valued at $50,000 and his 1940 Harley-Davidson motorcycle worth $42,000; Scott Arnett lost his custom motorcycle appraised at $35,000; Fred Beyrau lost his 1971 Harley Davidson assessed at $14,000, Joseph and Amber Goodwin lost their 1974 Harley-Davidson estimated at $20,000; Chris Hurst lost his 1989 Harley-Davidson valued at $6,000; Darren Hrbek lost his 1985 Harley-Davidson worth $25,000; Ullon and Denise Sechrest lost their 1975 Harley-Davidson appraised at $10,000; and Steve and Myrna Simpson lost their custom motorcycle assessed at $55,000, according to the complaint.

Before the fire, defendant Peace Free Will Baptist Church had placed a fire hydrant on its property, which the Long Lake Volunteer Fire Department attempted to use during the fire, the suit states. However, the water line connected to the fire hydrant was the wrong size, causing the water pressure supplied to the fire to be "severely compromised," the complaint says.

"That had defendant, Peace Free Will Baptist Church, installed the correct size water line, the Long Lake Volunteer Fire Department would have been able to suppress said fire without plaintiffs' motorcycles being damaged," the suit states.

The plaintiffs claim Peace Free Will Baptist Church negligently failed to use the correct size water line, installed an inadequate fire hydrant on its property, failed to tell local businesses of the incorrect fire hydrant and represented the fire hydrant as being a dual fire hydrant when it was not so.

Following the blaze, the owner of the motorcycle repair shop sought compensation for his damages from defendant The Charles L. Crane Agency Company, the complaint says. However, the company refused to reimburse him even though he had an insurance policy through it that promised to pay for any damages caused to his business and the contents therein, the plaintiffs claim.

The plaintiffs also name the Village of Pontoon Beach as a defendant, saying the village dispatched a police officer to the scene of the fire to inspect an alarm that had sounded at the motorcycle repair shop. The officer, however, failed to get out of his vehicle or inspect the premises, according to the complaint.

"Joe's Hawg Doc had been struck by lightning and the resulting fire would have been easily ascertained had the officer exited his vehicle to survey the scene and situation," the suit states.

Had the fire been caught earlier, the plaintiffs' vehicles may not have been damaged, the complaint says.

In their three-count complaint, the plaintiffs seek a judgment of more than $150,000, plus costs and other relief the court deems just.

It will be represented by William E. Miller III of Alton.

Madison County Circuit Court case number: 12-L-838.

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