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Contractor hired to clean up hoarder's mess

ROGUE RIVER — Except for a few wild turkeys wandering among piles of cast-off clothes, books and videotapes, there were no signs of life Wednesday afternoon at the rural Pleasant Creek Road home that was the site of one of the worst hoarding cases in county officials' memory.

But progress is being made in clearing out tons of malodorous garbage left after the May 4 death of homeowner Laura Sinclair-Bach, said Ted Zuk, Jackson County code enforcement supervisor.

Three semi-truck trailers that had been on the property were removed in recent days. And the mortgage lender, Litton Lenders, has hired a contractor "to finish up the job," Zuk said.

Neighbors in the rural neighborhood north of Rogue River complained for months that Sinclair-Bach's belongings were left lying willy-nilly on the grounds, pulled from the home or tossed from the trucks by foraging friends and family members. Rotting contents of multiple refrigerators added to the mix, creating a reeking calling card for rodents and other wildlife.

Jackson County Code Enforcement Officer Dean Walker, who visited the property on July 27, described the smell emanating from the home as "horrific." He deemed the mess the largest scale solid-waste issue he'd ever seen in his tenure with the county.

Sinclair-Bach was a hoarder to a level Walker had never before seen, he said. The "solid mess" at the pine-forested property needed immediate attention, he said.

"It's extremely rare to see something of this size," Walker said.

Annette Turner, 56, and Benny Black, 64, lived briefly in their fifth-wheel trailer on Sinclair-Bach's property. The couple now lives on an adjacent property. They said the dead woman's family members and friends dumped dozens of boxes off the trucks and out of the house. They were searching for usable or saleable goods, and dumping anything they didn't want into the yard, said Turner.

Walker's initial attempts to contact Sinclair-Bach's family to resolve the matter lead nowhere. But on Monday his colleague had "a good conversation" with family members, Zuk said.

Since ownership of the property has reverted to the mortgage holder, Litton Lenders must foot the bill for the clean-up. Otherwise the tab might have been on Sinclair-Bach's heirs, or whomever she bequeathed the property to, Zuk said.

Penalties for creating this level of a code violation could result in up to a $10,000 fine being levied, he said.

"But we try to get voluntary compliance instead of levying fines," Zuk said.

As long as Litton Lenders continues the clean-up effort, there will likely be no fines, he said.

"But if they don't, or if they stop, then, yes, we would cite at that point," Zuk said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.