Judge dismisses claims against city in wrongful death suit

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workman fatally electrocuted
A plumber was fatally electrocuted in the crawlspace underneath an apartment complex owned by the Agapion family when he came into contact with exposed wires in August 2017. (file photo)

A Guilford County judge has dismissed claims against the city of Greensboro related to the August 2017 death of a plumber while working at an apartment owned by a family that has gained notoriety for decades of housing code violations.

Superior Court Judge Anderson Cromer ruled on Monday that the city holds no duty to support a claim of

The city successfully argued that Hickenbottom’s estate couldn’t make a negligence claim against the city because the city owed no duty to the plumber. “Because the pleadings conclusively establish that defendant city of Greensboro neither issued a permit for nor inspected the electrical work, defendant city of Greensboro owed no duty to the decedent with respect to the electrical work as a matter of law,” Assistant City Attorney John Roseboro wrote. “Absent a duty owed to decedent, defendant city of Greensboro cannot be liable for negligence.”

Hickenbottom died on Aug. 23, 2017 while working on an apartment on Kersey Street in Greensboro’s Southmont neighborhood. Members of the Agapion family and various business entities set up to support the family’s ownership and maintenance of hundreds of rental properties remain defendants in the lawsuit.

Bill Agapion and Sophia Agapion, along with their son Basil, responded in nearly identical filings in August, denying the claims made by Hickenbottom’s widow. The defendants, who are represented by Smith Moore Leatherwood law firm, admitted that Arco Realty, the agency responsible for maintaining the rental properties, contacted Hickenbottom on Aug. 2, 2017 in response to a tenant complaint about running water, and they admitted that the plumber went into a crawlspace to do the work.

But the Agapions deny a claim made by Hickenbottom’s widow that her husband “came into contact with an exposed electrical wire and was electrocuted.” The family also denies a claim that “hours went by before tenants in adjacent buildings started questioning why the deceased had not come out.”

The family admits that a Greensboro fire captain located Hickenbottom’s body under the building, but they deny that “as the fire captain was backing out of the crawlspace, the captain hit a bare copper wire and was shocked.”

The Agapions deny that a city building inspector determined that they had not obtained permits for the electrical work.

Alan Williams, a building inspector, wrote in report for the city that he was called out to the apartment on at 10 p.m. Aug. 23 “in reference to a body under crawlspace.” He said by the time he arrived Duke Energy had already removed all the meters to the units, “due to several open/cut and exposed electrical wires.” He added, “The crawlspace also had standing and running water, as it was apparent that either plumbing or electrical work [was] being done on some units.

“Was informed by [Investigator] Bridgett Crump [of the Greensboro Fire Department] that upon their arrival several of the wires that were exposed had electricity, and several tenants complained about having electrical issues before this happened,” Williams wrote. “Several pictures were taken by GPD CSI documenting the condition of electrical and plumbing problems under crawlspace.”

Contradicting Williams’ report, the Agapions denied that “the inspector found that the electrical system had bare wires.” The also denied that inspectors found “dangerous conditions, unsafe wiring” and electrical work that did not meet code.

Williams wrote after a week after Higgenbottom’s death: “I posted condemned signs on building due to all meters removed and water being cut off and the code violations under crawlspace, several issues concerning electrical/plumbing will need to be addressed in crawlspace before condemned signs can be removed and tenants allowed back in.”

The Agapions denied the plaintiff’s claim that Higgenbottom “was killed as a result of such code violations and dangerous conditions.”

Basil Agapion, Bill and Sophia’s son, acknowledged in an interrogatory that he owns the property at 2316 Kersey St., where Higgenbottom was killed. Responding to a claim by the plaintiff about the intertwined nature of the family’s holdings, Bill and Sophia Agapion acknowledged in their response that they “have life estates in the apartment building.” They also acknowledged that Arco Realty manages the properties.

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