The evening of August 23, 2017 will be one that will haunt me for the rest of my life. My brother Gary Hickenbottom was called to fix a water leak from a realty company he subcontracts for under one of her apartment buildings at 4:00pm. My sister-in-law contacted me around 10:00pm because he had never came home and she couldn’t reach him. What led to a couple of hours of calling family, the realty owner, hospitals and finally the police, the detective delivered the devastating news. While trying to fix the water pipe, my brother somehow became entangled in the wires and was electrocuted.
In search of answers to what really happened, we paid a visit to this apartment building on Kersey St. in Greensboro. We found out that what first appears as a nice building, was condemned last night after my brother’s body was found. Tenants were taken to hotels even before our family was notified of the death. The tenants had come back to get some of their belongings while we were there and were very willing to share what little they knew, and the problems they had been encountering in their apartments.
Latoya Cabler, right, has only been living there since March. She was just happy that she could stay with her boyfriend, Chad Vaughn Jr., left, until she could find another place to live. Others were not so lucky, and had nowhere else to stay.
Randy, who chose not to give his last name, was the last person to see and speak with my brother. He helped my brother pull this piece of plywood back, so that Gary could get in. Under the occupied apartments were apartments that had been boarded up.
What remained of these apartments were anything but nice or safe. Ceilings that looked as though they would collapse at any moment, mold, and exposed pipes were what was left of these rooms. Randy talked with Gary for a few minutes about the damage and about my brother’s favorite team, The Steelers, but then he left. That was the last time my brother would be seen alive.
Later that evening, the tenants started wondering why the plumber’s van was still there and tried calling Gary. They decided to call the police when they didn’t get a response. Details are few to know exactly what happened but Gary would have had to pass through this array of wires and then would have turned to the right to go deeper inside where his body was finally located. Whether his death was due to an unfortunate accident or negligence of the landlord, these living conditions are not okay. This landlord and their family have had many other apartment buildings shut down due to unsafe conditions and code violations over the past decade. Another instance was under investigation due to a child dying of lead poisoning a few years ago.Why must it take the death of an innocent person to have these buildings condemned?
My brother had a two year old son Jesse, left, that doesn’t understand that his daddy isn’t coming home. He will never again play with him, hug him or kiss him goodnight. The crime investigator said that he must be told the truth, but how do you explain to a child your daddy’s gone (photos by Bernadine Hernandez).
In memory of the best brother anyone sister could ever have, Gary Hickenbottom (photo by Carissa Hickenbottom)