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Roof Collapse Kills Couple Next Door

August 9, 1985

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) _ The roof of a 126-year-old church condemned by city officials in June collapsed and sent wreckage crashing onto an adjacent house, crushing to death the elderly couple inside the house, police said.

Police Chief William McKeel said today the victims were identified as Augusta Pettis, whose age was unknown, and his wife, Ira Lee, 67.

″The roof just collapsed, pushing the brick walls out, and a portion of the brick wall fell on the house,″ McKeel said. ″They were dead when we pulled them from the rubble.″

City officials and the state fire marshal were trying to determine the cause of the collapse at the church, which once was a refuge for runaway slaves.

The two-story brick Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church collapsed about 9:40 p.m. Thursday, falling onto the bedroom in the couple’s small bungalow, about 15 feet from the church, McKeel said.

Although the building was condemned in June as structurally unsound, McKeel said city officials had not regarded it as an immediate danger. The church had been unoccupied for the past five weeks because of its condition.

″It was very unexpected that it happened,″ he said.

City Engineer David Pennington said the building was condemned because there was about a foot between the wall and ceiling where the rafters had spread apart. He said the rafters weren’t supporting the ceiling.

″From our first evaluation last night at the scene that (the roof supports) is what gave away,″ said Assistant City Manager Melissa Vossmer.

She said in the past few weeks city inspectors and engineers had been ″looking to determine if it could be repaired, and what needed to be done.″

She said since the building was declared unsafe, services have been held in a nearby school.

According to city officials, the church was built in 1859 and served as a refuge for runaway slaves during the Civil War.

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