Tunnels under Md. home ‘dangerous,’ ‘hazardous,’ county says

Editor’s note: This story has been changed to reflect the relationship between the plaintiffs.

BETHESDA, Md. — Six months after firefighters discovered tunnels under a Bethesda house, Montgomery County is taking legal action against the homeowner and further detailing the extent of the “severe” conditions underground.

As first reported by WTOP, underneath what neighbors thought was an innocuous white house on Danbury Road exists “a network of unsupported tunnels, excavations and cavities,” which Montgomery County court filings deem “dangerous and hazardous to human life and the public welfare.”

In a filing Friday, county attorneys cited six code violations filed against homeowner David Beckwitt and his son Daniel, who lived in the home. These violations include hoarding conditions in the house and in the tunnels, and the storing and use of hazardous materials. The Beckwitts have 60 days to respond.

Following a back and forth with the Beckwitts, it became clear to the Department of Permitting Services investigators in January that the tunneling was “more extensive than originally understood” — extending into the public right-of-way under Danbury — and will “likely go beyond at least one property line.”

The Beckwitts’ house sits roughly 15 feet back from Danbury. Court filings did not specify the address of the property potentially affected by the excavation. The house is bordered on three sides by other homes.

The county condemned the house following a deadly September 2017 fire that claimed one man’s life. Askia Khafra, 21, of Silver Spring was doing work under the house when the fire broke out, Montgomery County police Capt. Darren Francke had previously said.

Court filings outline the timeline of communication between the county and the Beckwitts, going back to October 2017, one month after the fire. The Department of Health and Human Services determined the “severe” conditions to be unfit for anyone to live in the house and called it a public nuisance. It issued an emergency field notice, which effectively condemned the building on Oct. 2, according to court filings.

Over the next five months, the Beckwitts failed to acknowledge the county orders, according to court filings. Though in an appeal of a DPS order, David Beckwitt acknowledged “many of the facts contained in the order” to take immediate corrective action in fixing the home, before withdrawing his appeal in December 2017.

There was a meeting scheduled between the parties in mid-January, but it was not immediately clear if the Beckwitts attended.

After receiving “additional information” regarding the extension of the excavation into the right-of-way as well as through another property line, DPS issued a second order March 9. The county filings state that its attorneys did not hear from the homeowner and that Beckwitt has therefore failed to comply with the terms.

WTOP has not been able to reach the Beckwitts or their attorney for comment.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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