DeKALB – Dominique Warner is suing her landlord, Hunter Ridgebrook Properties LLC, and said more could have been done to prevent a Tuesday night fire at Ridgebrook Apartments, which left her no other choice but to toss her 1-year-old and 3-month-old children out the window to the waiting arms of her fiancé, Michael Tousson.
“I was hesitant to throw my 3-month-old, she’s so little,” Warner, 27, said in a phone interview Friday. “I thought, ‘What if her neck snaps?’ But Michael reassured me, saying ‘Babe, do you trust me?’ I said yes, and I let her go. It was terrifying. I wake up and cry in the middle of the night [thinking about it]. I can’t sleep anymore.”
Warner and 140 others lost their home when an apartment building at 808 Ridge Drive was condemned Wednesday after several mattresses were lit on fire in a common area on the third floor during the night, forcing residents to leap from the windows to escape the blaze.
A second suspected arson Thursday at 930 Greenbrier Road, also owned by Hunter Properties, started when a dryer in the basement was set ablaze. That building was also condemned, bringing the number of residents who lost their homes to about 200 in two days.
Lawsuit fueled by history of fires
Sycamore-based lawyer Nicholas Cronauer filed a lawsuit Friday on Warner’s behalf against Hunter Ridgebrook Properties LLC in DeKalb County court Friday. The lawsuit claims Hunter Properties management knew that the mattresses had been left by previous tenants and were sitting out in the hallway for almost two weeks, but did not move them, even though management was also aware of four previous suspected arsons in the building.
In the lawsuit, Warner claims Hunter Properties abandoned security measures “despite the nature of its business, past history of criminal activity on the premises, its hours of operation and the location of its place of business, which rendered it reasonably foreseeable that its customers would be the victim of criminal arson while living within its premises.”
Warner is asking Hunter Properties for $50,000 in restitution, including medical expenses, property damage, and physical and emotional trauma.
Attorney Clay Campbell, who represents Hunter Properties, said he had not yet seen the lawsuit as of Friday afternoon and could not comment on the case.
Warner and Tousson said Hunter Properties manager Tiffany Meadows offered them three alternate apartments after they were displaced, including a unit at 932 Greenbrier, next door to the 930 Greenbrier building that was also set on fire.
“She’s showed us a total of three apartments, and all are garbage,” Tousson said. “One had somebody’s stuff in it, and they wanted us to move it out. Then, there’s a hole in the wall outside in the hallway.”
When Warner went to do a load of laundry, the machine didn’t work, Tousson said.
Campbell said many apartment buildings are in the middle of summer turnover and a lot of tenant transition.
“We have used every available apartment to house these families, even though some might not be in optimum condition,” Campbell said Friday. “We thought this preferable to housing them in the local shelter or risking families being separated or worse still, homeless.”
Tousson, Warner and their children are currently staying with Warner’s mother.
Jumping to safety
Tousson, 26, said he came home early from work about 10:45 p.m. Tuesday, and when he got upstairs, he was faced with a fiery sight. After catching the children Warner threw from the window, Tousson said, Warner hesitated to jump herself.
“I was clinging to the window at first, I was scared,” Warner said. “[Tousson] was like, ‘You gotta come out.’ I saw the smoke getting worse and rising, and thought, ‘Dominique, you’ve got one option: jump or die in this fire.’ I don’t know how I had the strength to do it.”
After the fall, Warner suffered injuries, including severe bruising in her left arm, which is in a sling, and her neck, for which she was given a brace.
The Tuesday and Thursday fires, which authorities suspect were set intentionally, are the latest in a string of suspected arsons at Hunter Properties locations dating back to 2018, when four fires were set in one week at the 808 Ridge Drive apartments.