Town moves to declare house ‘blighted’ where missing Smithfield man’s body was found

Published 3:33 pm Wednesday, November 30, 2022

As police await a cause-of-death ruling for a man whose body was discovered in an abandoned Smithfield house last month, the town government is moving to take action against the owner of the dilapidated residence.

Smithfield Police responded to 202 West St. on Oct. 29 after a neighbor reported smelling a foul odor coming from the house. They found the body of 40-year-old Leondus Holloman face down in the front room.

Holloman’s family had reported him missing on Oct. 11. According to police, the house was “open to the environment” and contained animal droppings.

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On Nov. 2, Community Development and Planning Director Tammie Clary sent a letter via certified mail to the property’s owner, identified in Isle of Wight County tax records as Hattie G. Holloway-Jones of Virginia Beach, stating that the home’s condition qualified as “blighted” under Smithfield’s blight abatement ordinance. The letter is addressed to Holloway-Jones’ estate.

The ordinance defines “blighted” as uninhabited structures measuring more than 256 square feet that, by reason of dilapidation, obsolescence or the absence of electricity, water or sanitary facilities, are detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of the community. According to town staff, the house is missing windows and its back door is “somewhat ajar.”

The ordinance gives owners of blighted properties 30 days from their receipt of the town’s letter – until Dec. 6 in this case – to submit a “spot blight abatement plan.” Town staff reported at a Nov. 28 meeting of the Town Council’s Public Buildings and Welfare Committee that they’d been unable to make contact with the owner and, as of that date, were not expecting to receive a plan by the stated deadline.

If no plan is received by the deadline, the ordinance gives the Town Council the option of declaring the house blighted. Doing so would give the town the authority to expend its own funds to remedy the situation and place a lien on the property to recover its expenses.

Smithfield Police Chief Alonzo Howell told the committee that the house had at one time been boarded up with “no trespassing” signs, but the boards had for some reason been removed as of the date police found Holloman’s body. Town staff have recommended the property be re-boarded, though the blight abatement ordinance does give Smithfield the authority to take more drastic measures, such as demolition.

There was no way to tell how long Holloman’s body had been lying in the house and no witnesses to his entering, Smithfield Police Lt. Patrick Araojo told The Smithfield Times on Nov. 1.

According to Howell, the state medical examiner has found “no sign of trauma” on Holloman’s body to date, and has ruled out gunshots as the cause of death. The death remains under investigation and hasn’t been ruled a homicide, suicide or accidental.

Police, when soliciting the public’s help on Facebook in locating the then-missing Holloman on Oct. 19, stated there was “reasonable cause for concern for his safety.” He’d been last seen alive around 3 p.m. Oct. 4 in the 300 block of Middle Street roughly a block away from the house where his body was found.

It “may be a while,” Howell said, before the Smithfield Police Department receives the medical examiner’s toxicology report, which will assess whether any drugs or toxins could have contributed to Holloman’s death.

If the town goes through with its plans to take action against the home’s owner, it will mark the second time in under two years that Smithfield has used its blight abatement ordinance. The town enacted the ordinance in April 2021, using it for the first time last December to declare the former Tastee Freez restaurant on South Church Street blighted and order its demolition.