GEORGETOWN, SC (WMBF) - Nearly three years after a fire burned down an entire block of historic Front Street in Georgetown, one property owner is suing the business where witnesses reported the fire started.
The owner of Colonial Florist, Jeanette Ard, filed the lawsuit Sept. 15 against BCSTT Enterprise doing business as Limpin' Jane's Restaurant, Bryan Shepler, and Long Shot, LLC.
"It is an individual lawsuit and I hope to recoup some of what I've lost," Jeanette Ard said.
The lawsuit said an investigation revealed the owner of Limpin' Jane's restaurant, Bryan Shepler, refinished the restaurant's teak tables and chairs the afternoon before the fire was reported.
Then, according to the lawsuit, Shepler admitted to a SLED agent he discarded oil-stained rags used to refinish the furniture in a plastic trash can on the restaurant's back deck.
The lawsuit goes on to say that kind of disposal isn't safe and Shepler's negligence caused Ard to lose her business and home.
SLED's investigation at the time said the cause of the fire was undetermined, but the report did say the fire likely started at Limpin' Jane's. It said linseed-soaked rags likely spontaneously combusted when they were thrown out in a trash can behind the restaurant. It said it couldn't be ruled accidental because all accidental causes couldn't be eliminated.
Bryan Shepler did not respond to request for comment. Ard said this is not a class-action lawsuit.
"There's no way to ever recover all of what you've lost, but I hope to recover some of it," Ard said.
Ard has been operating Colonial Florist two blocks down Front Street for the past three years.
"It's been good, but it's been a struggle," she said. She said she still thinks about the fire every day.
"It's almost like you look for something you can't find every day and then you realize it's not there anymore," she said. "It's gone."
The flames started September 25, 2013 when Ard was out of town. She was getting calls from people in the area keeping her up to date on what was going on.
"He called me a little bit before 8:00 and told me my building was totally engulfed and would be totally destroyed," she said. She came back to not only a burnt-down business, but also a burnt-down home. She lived upstairs.
"It was just a wonderful place to live and work," she said. She's now renting her business and house for the first time.
"You just can't personalize it like you can your own home," Ard said. "I feel like I'm visiting here and I feel like I'm visiting when I'm at home. I want that feeling of it being mine again."
Ard said she already has the permits to build a deck and she plans to rebuild the entire building. She hopes to make progress this year.
"It's expensive to rebuild and meet all of the new flood requirements and all of the things you would have to do," she said. "That process will happen. It takes a lot more time then you realize it does."
She said the economy in Georgetown has also been down since the steel mill company moved out and jobs are not as prevalent in the area. Ard's lawsuit is not the first seeking damages for negligence from the Front Street fire.
A lawsuit was filed March 5, 2015 by William Wheeler - Great Lakes Reinsurance, PLC - against BCSTT Enterprises, LLC doing business as Limpin' Jane's.
That lawsuit also alleges negligence in using oil-soaked rags that led to the fire and subsequent damage. It alleges improper disposal by Shepler. The lawsuit claims $1.5 million in damage and is seeking a judgment of $750,000, plus interest. In that case, both parties came to an agreement and the case was dropped.
On Aug. 19, 2015, a lawsuit was filed by Will Whit, LLC against Bryan Shepler and BCSTT Enterprises LCC doing business as Limpin' Jane's.
Whit alleges Shepler and other defendants were negligent, careless and reckless. They allege oil-soaked rags left unattended caused the fire, in turn, causing damage to their property.
It said Shepler did not properly dispose of the rags and the business failed to provide Shepler with the proper training and supervision to use the oil rags and should not have allowed him to do so.
This case is still pending and could be called for trial on June 5, 2017 at the earliest.