Homeless man dies in fall at Seagram’s plant
Wednesday, 08 January 2014 12:40

The former Seagram’s distillery has been the site of two accidental deaths in the last 18 months. file photo/Roland Dorsey

Death sparks debate over demolishing distillery site

by Bill Gates

There’s a sign at the old Seagram’s plant on Sollers Point Road, eight feet long by four feet deep and visible from the road, which states in no uncertain terms: Stay Out.
    Last week, another man ignored that sign and suffered the worst possible consequence.
    Tony King Jr., 24, of no fixed address fell to his death sometime on Dec. 30, according to a Baltimore County police spokeswoman.
    King apparently fell 14 feet from a walkway inside one of the buildings, police said. The death has been ruled accidental.
    Police were summoned to the scene around 9 a.m. on Dec. 30 after a 911 caller reported seeing a body, according to Baltimore County police spokeswoman Elise Armacost.
    “He was found lying on the floor,” Armacost said. “Investigators found he had fallen from a walkway about 14 feet high.
    “There was no evidence of foul play.”
    Emergency crews from the Wise Avenue Volunteer Fire Department pronounced King dead at the scene, Armacost said.
    Police did not know why King was on the property.
    It was the second death in the past 18 months inside the Seagram’s plant, which closed in 1992.
    Patrick Miskimon, 19, died in August 2012 after falling from a scaffolding in one of the buildings.
    A man was critically injured in July after jumping from a three-story height to escape a fire.
    King’s death has sparked discussion on social media sites that the old distillery is dangerous and should be torn down.
    The owner of the property, John Vontran of VO LLC, said the buildings will be demolished once plans to develop the property have been finalized.
    “We’re eagerly working on a plan right now,” Vontran said on Monday. “We’re working on it aggressively. As soon as we have something concrete, the buildings will come down.”
    The plans include putting either apartments or a townhouse development on the property, Vontran said.
    “If we’re able to strike a deal, get something developed, the buildings will come down immediately.”
    In the meantime, “the buildings are structurally sound,” he said. “They’re not a public safety issue, unless you trespass, climb inside the buildings, start a fire.
    “I probably keep Home Depot in business, with buying ‘No Trespassing’ signs, repairing the fences and replacing locks people cut to get in.”
    Vontran said he also makes sure the grass is cut and the property maintained so it does not become an eyesore.
    After the July fire, the Baltimore County Fire Department asked Vontran to demolish the damaged building as it was no longer structurally sound.
    “It was demolished within days,” he said.
    The locks on the gates of the facility are of a type that can be opened by First Responders, Vontran said, and he uses a numbering system on the buildings so emergency crews can easily find the one they are looking for.
    “It’s sad that someone [died] there,” he said. “My main concern is there being a fire, and a firefighter getting injured while fighting it.”
    Several people posting on Dundalk social media sites have suggested building a new police station on the Seagram’s property.
    The North Point precinct is in the process of being relocated from the North Point Government Center to the former Eastwood Elementary School.
    About three years ago, Vontran said, he proposed a land swap with Baltimore County: the Seagram’s property in exchange for the Government Center property at Wise Avenue and Merritt Boulevard.
    In return, he would have built a brand-new police precinct and recreation center at the Seagram’s site.
    “I would have built a state-of-the-art police station there, and it would have cost the county zero dollars,” Vontran said.
    He withdrew the proposal in the face of fierce community opposition.
    “It would have been a $50 million investment, without one cent coming from the county or taxpayers,” Vontran said.
    Now, people are asking why the North Point precinct can not be at the Seagram’s location instead of Eastwood. Possibly some of the same people who opposed it when Vontran originally floated the idea.
    “It’s kind of funny,” he said.
    The North Point Government Center land was put up for sale last year.
    Vontran wanted to put a big-box retailer on the property, along with a major sit-down restaurant chain.
    But Baltimore County selected another buyer for the property, so the swap — and a police station at Seagram’s — is off the table.
    “Basically, I just wanted to do something for the good of the community,” he said. “And, of course, make a dollar, just like everyone else wants to do. But it wouldn’t have been taxpayer money.”