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Deaths at Allen Benedict Court: One Year Later

Two men lost their lives inside their homes. Hundreds of people had to be evacuated. Here's what's happened since then.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — It's now been one year since two men lost their lives inside two units at Allen Benedict Court, a public housing complex in Columbia. 

Since then, there has been an investigation into what happened, calls for change, and an installation of new leadership. 

The Victims 

On January 17, two men--61-year-old Calvin Witherspoon, Jr. and 30-year-old Derrick Caldwell Roper--were found dead in their individual Allen Benedict Court apartments, a public housing complex. The Richland County Coroner said carbon monoxide poisoning caused both deaths. 

RELATED: 'No probable cause' to pursue criminal charges in Allen Benedict Court

A day after their deaths, multiple gas leaks were discovered throughout the property, and the entire collection of units had to be evacuated. That left 411 people needing a home. They were put up in hotels, and then were given vouchers to find new affordable housing. 

RELATED: 'He's bleeding out the ears': 911 calls at Allen Benedict Court reveal pleas for help

RELATED: 25 days since Derrick Roper and Calvin Witherspoon Jr. were found dead in their homes at Allen Benedict Court

Columbia Fire Department Chief Aubrey Jenkins said in a letter to the housing authority after the deaths that inspectors found carbon monoxide, missing smoke alarms, charred closets, and infestations among nearly two dozen violations inspectors discovered.

Jenkins called the conditions “severe and lethal” and an “imminent threat to human life.”

Credit: WLTX
Images of Derrick Roper and Calvin Witherspoon outside of their apartments at Building J, Allen Benedict Court, a Columbia Housing Authority property

RELATED: Columbia Housing Authority to demolish Allen-Benedict Court this year

The City's Investigation 

On November 27, 2019, officials concluded there was no probable cause to file criminal charges in the case. 

Fifth Circuit Solicitor Byron Gipson said that City of Columbia Code enforcement, HUD office of Inspector General, and inspectors from City of Columbia Fire and Police departments conducted the investigation. 

RELATED: Columbia Housing Authority summoned for multiple violations found during investigation

RELATED: 'No probable cause' to pursue criminal charges in Allen Benedict Court

It was Gipson's legal opinion that probable cause did not exist to pursue criminal charges in general sessions court. He said that his opinion was not meant to be a comment on pending cases or civil liability cases, those decisions should come later.   

Several lawsuits have been filed by the both the other residents of Allen Benedict and the family of the men who died. 

RELATED: Two new lawsuits filed over death, injury at Allen Benedict Court apartments

RELATED: Allen Benedict Court lawsuits remain tied in the court system

The Columbia Housing Authority was cited in 22 categories of violations --- 869 violations documented during inspections in 25 buildings, in 244 units at Allen Benedict Court. The court date for those citations is scheduled for Jan 22, 2020. No monetary citations have been issued as of yet. 

"Unprecedented" was the response by Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook when asked about the number of violations found on the Allen Benedict Court property. 

Changes in Leadership: 

A month after the victims died, Columbia Housing Authority Executive Director Gilbert Walker announced his retirement after 50 years with the organization. 

The agency found a replacement and picked four new members to the board. 

RELATED: Interim executive director begins her new role at the Columbia Housing Authority

RELATED: Columbia Housing Authority director announces retirement, one month after deaths, evacuation

Our Probe: 

WLTX's Deep Dive team has done extensive work in exposing what's been happening at Columbia Housing Authority. During our pursuit of the truth, two of our reporters were even arrested, but we were later issued an apology. 

RELATED: Columbia Housing Authority on reporter arrests: 'It should never happen again'

RELATED: Four years of Allen Benedict Court inspection reports released

RELATED: DEEP DIVE: Work orders highlight potentially life-threatening problems at Allen Benedict Court

RELATED: Deep Dive: Work orders for deceased resident's apartment

RELATED: History of issues at Allen Benedict Court Apartments

RELATED: Allen Benedict Court records show possible lack in maintenance

RELATED: Incident report reveals possible source of CO in Allen Benedict Court deaths

RELATED: 'Maybe they care, maybe they don't' Columbia Housing resident speaks out about maintenance issues

RELATED: EMS radio recordings describe moments after man was found in his apartment at Allen Benedict Court

RELATED: Fire Department: At least 7 calls for 'suspicious odors' in 2018 at Allen Benedict Court

RELATED: Allen Benedict Court work orders show history of maintenance issues at deceased resident's apartment

RELATED: 'It takes a toll': Allen Benedict mother, daughter adapting to new normal

RELATED: 'I was in the belly of Hell': ex-Allen Benedict Court resident describes living there

RELATED: Previous work orders show gas leak issues at Allen Benedict Court