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Eviction of DeKalb 'hoarder' leads to curbside rummage free-for-all

DeKALB – Brian Byrd shook his head. The 59-year-old DeKalb resident couldn’t believe the hundreds of thousands of Boy Scout and law enforcement patches abandoned in cardboard boxes curbside in the 1400 block of South Fourth Street.

Hundreds of boxes of patches, along with electronics, furniture and other debris, filled the parkway in front of a strip-mall property that once included a grocery store. Many people, drawn to the abandoned property, sifted through boxes, as others noisily and hurriedly loaded desks, desktop computers and other large objects onto flatbeds and into SUVs.

“It’s very sad,” Byrd said. “I see all the veteran patches out here, and I hope they’re well taken care of.”

The pile of debris was moved out of a 4,000-square-foot space rented by Michael Welsh, a former DeKalb City Council member whose landlord, Jim Mason, said Welsh owes him more than $5,500 in back rent, and that he has a DeKalb County court ruling saying so. Mason said Welsh, who’d paid his rent the first few months at the property, had defaulted on about his past five payments before Mason decided to evict him.

Welsh did not respond to a message seeking comment Wednesday.

“This is a tragedy, and I’ve treated him with the utmost respect,” Mason said. “But this is what happens when people don’t take care of business. It’s just tragic. He’s clearly a hoarder.”

Welsh served on the DeKalb City Council for eight years and earned 43 percent of the votes for mayor in the April 1993 election. He’d recently served as chairman of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission and was owner of a DeKalb-based patch-making company called Welsh Industries Ltd.

Mason said it took 10 workers about 10 hours to clear everything from the space, with a front-end loader repeatedly scooping up loads of stuff and depositing it on the parkway in front of the strip mall.

“There’s so much stuff, we ran out of grass,” Mason said.

Mason said Wednesday that passersby had scavenged through the pile of goods and reduced it by about half by early afternoon. At about 1 p.m., more than a dozen people still were picking through the pile, most of them scavenging for scrap metal.

Anastacio Garcia, 75, who said he lives right down the street, was filling a bag with badges as another man walked by with both arms full of patches.

Mason said people were welcome to pick through the mess.

“Absolutely nothing illegal about it,” he said. “This is America, and who’s going to prosecute them?”

Mason said that whatever property remained Thursday would be hauled away by R&B Services of DeKalb and end up in the Waste Management landfill near Cortland.

“And that’s on me,” Mason said. “The dump charges by the pound.”

That is why he said he’ll pursue another judgment for more damages in DeKalb County court.

“When people go bankrupt or don’t pay the bill,” he said, “this is what I have to do.”

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