Blaze only family’s latest problem
For Dena and David Berry and their three children, the past two years have been a challenge.
"We'll just keep pressing on," David says.
On Feb. 16, 1999, David ruptured three disks in his back in a work-related incident. He lost his job. And his workers' compensation payments stopped last October.
In December, fire struck their apartment building. But they and their belongings escaped unharmed.
"I was so happy to go home and be home," Dena said.
Then, on the evening of Feb. 14, another fire broke out in their building at Tonganoxie's Cedar Hills apartments.
Now, there's nothing to go home to. All of their possessions are gone, except the clothes they were wearing and a few photographs of the children that a Tonganoxie police officer pulled from a wall.
"Those are all I have of my kids being little," said Dena, 29.
The five Berrys are staying with Dena's parents, who live southeast of Tonganoxie. Dena and David drive about 20 minutes to ensure their daughters, Megan, 7, and Brittany, 10, attend classes at Tonganoxie Elementary School. Their youngest, Zachary, 2, isn't in school yet.
Like their next-door neighbors Cindy Foster and Marla Lopez the Berry family didn't carry renters insurance. Foster and Lopez's policy would have gone into effect on Feb. 23. For the Berrys, though, the situation was different.
"We had to cut costs on everything," said David, 32. "No cable, no nothing."
Since the Feb. 14 fire, Dena and David said, they've been surprised at the outcry from tenants over management practices at the complex. It's not that the Berrys didn't have their own problems. They discovered at a tenants meeting last week that others were having similar problems.
"I would have left a long time ago," David said.
After the fire in December, the couple consistently had to replace light bulbs.
"We told them about it," David said of First Management of Lawrence, which provides maintenance for the current owner, Greenway LLC.
Two years ago, their water heater leaked, sending water into the living room. During a call to management, they were told they'd have to wait through the weekend, until Monday or Tuesday.
"I had water in my living room and hallway, and that wasn't an emergency," Dena said.
When management did respond, the couple said, workers merely tried to dry the carpet and pad underneath.
Officials with First Management have defended their work at the complex, saying they respond in a timely manner to tenants' needs. In addition, a First Management representative has said that in recent months staff changes have been made that have improved how tenant requests are handled.
Fire-relief funds have been established at First State Bank and Trust for both the Berry and Foster families.
"This went from a well-planned-out life to 'I can't believe this happened,'" David said.