Fate of collapsed building expected to be decided here|[07/18/07]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Nearly 18 months after it collapsed in an avalanche of its own bricks, the fate of the downtown building near Clay and Washington streets may be decided in Vicksburg.

Greenville-based Chancellor Marie Wilson signed an order Monday transferring the case to Warren County Circuit Court on the grounds the chancery had no jurisdiction in the issues of the case.

No hearing date was set; whether the presiding judge would be Isadore Patrick or Frank Vollor was not announced.

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The case involves whether Preston and Mary Reuther, owners of the building at 711-713 Clay, will be allowed to demolish the remains of the structure.

Formerly O’Neill-McNamara Hardware and Thomas Furniture, the 140-year-old structure collapsed Jan. 25, 2006, as it was being cleaned and prepared for renovation.

If a summary judgment goes in favor of the City of Vicksburg, however, it may be put up for sale and restored.

Vicksburg-based Chancellor Vicki Roach Barnes, the original judge in the case, recused herself from the case in November. It then bounced around the dockets of Indianola-based Chancery Judge Jane Weathersby and Wilson as other defendants were brought in.

A third-party defendant, Zurich Insurance Services Inc., filed a brief June 27 in response to claims for punitive damages by the Reuthers. In it, the insurance giant challenged the case being held in chancery court, as it involved matters of law.

The response also says such an award would be excessive.

Wooden debris hangs from off what was once the front of the building, which was being cleaned by contract workers for the building’s re-opening as an antique retail venue.

Traffic on Clay between Washington and Walnut was halted for nearly six months after the collapse.

Two-way traffic has been routed around chain-link fencing surrounding the front of the site nearly since its collapse.

None of the 23 workers inside was injured.