Neighbors complained for years that David Burke’s home in Baton Rouge was a hazardous eyesore that was decreasing their property values.
The decaying structure, which had flooded in the late 1980s, stood in sharp contrast to the tidy homes of the Highland Creek subdivision. More recently, the pink-and-white house lost portions of its roof to the winds of Hurricane Gustav, damage that was also left unaddressed.
“He never fixed it,” said Lisa Chustz, who lives next door and keeps several cats at her home to fend off rodents from the neighboring property. “He went back in his house and didn’t worry about it.”
The conditions had only worsened since Burke, 61, was booked a year ago on dozens of counts of child pornography, leaving the home unoccupied. But after years of frustration, neighbors watched in relief Thursday as the unsparing claws of an excavator tore the home apart, a demolition authorized by a judge in March.
“It’s a long time coming, and I’m glad to see it come down,” said Chris Gearhart, one of several residents who watched as a city-parish public works crew leveled the home at 428 Stoney Creek Ave. The structure had fallen into such disrepair, Gearhart said, that passers-by would stop to look at the house.
“We’ve gotten beat up about this,” said David Guillory, the interim Department of Public Works director. “We have seen worse, but in an area like this, where people take care of their yards and houses, this kind of poses more of a problem.”
A family member who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Burke has been heavily medicated and suffered from mental health issues for decades. He has been charged with 50 counts of possessing child pornography and is awaiting trial, according to court records.
Assistant Parish Attorney Maimuna Magee said neighbors had tried for years to do something about Burke’s residence, but it was difficult for the city-parish to take action when Burke was still living in the home.
Burke represented himself at a court hearing before the home was condemned, Magee said, but he offered no defense or explanation for the condition of the home.
City-parish officials accused Burke of storing junk on his property, even though he had been ordered to cease and desist from the practice in November 2009.
In an application for a search warrant last year, a state Attorney General’s Office investigator described Burke’s front lawn as “overgrown” and approximately 2 feet high. “From the street, one is able to see into the attic where the roof is missing,” the warrant said.
Jessica Rodriguez, who used to live across the street, described Burke’s yard as “a jungle.”
“We had literally seen animals run out of the house,” she recalled Thursday. “It just got increasingly worse.”
In interviews, neighbors portrayed Burke as a reclusive hoarder who had a penchant for bonsai trees and exotic birds. He was sometimes seen carting large amounts of food into his residence, where he would remain for days.
Lisa Chustz, the neighbor, said Burke received an average of five boxes a day from UPS.
“He would just throw it in the house and never open it,” she said of the shipments.
Patrick O’Neill, who lives across the street and took video of the demolition, said he was approached about four years ago by a federal agent investigating Burke for allegedly importing plants without a permit.
“I think with all that and the grass that was up to the gutter, it got the attention of someone like the (state) attorney general,” he said.
While he was satisfied to see the home torn down, Gearhart said he was disappointed the neighborhood “never really did anything to help (Burke) out.”
“At a time when we’re talking about mental illness, we should have done more,” Gearhart said. “Why couldn’t we have been better neighbors and a better community and reached out and helped this man?”