Officer Don Wyar was poised reluctantly outside of the house to which he had been called. He said he was becoming nauseated just standing by the screen door. He took one step inside the residence, then retracted that step, saying simply, “No.”
Wyar’s findings at the Prospect Street home were discussed at a Portage Borough Council meeting Monday. Borough Manager Robert Koban began describing to council members the stench emanating from the home and recommended the inclusion of the state Department of Health before he was asked if Wyar had found a dead body.
Koban said it was worse.
A gang of 16 cats – 12 adults and four kittens – was found at the residence, fostered by the only human Wyar found when he inspected the home on March 21: A man named Nicholas Turchak, who claimed to be renting the home from its owner, although that was later found to be untrue.
“My understanding is that this gentleman was pretty much squatting at the house,” Koban said.
Turchak allegedly had been taking stray cats into the home and admitted to feeding several more outside.
The bathtub became a communal litter box, with the urine that didn’t drain caking over the ceramic.
Feces lined almost every room of the house and hung on most of the furniture, according to Wyar. The feces on the basement floor was covered up with cardboard sheets that sank by inches when a foot was placed on it.
“The odor was so bad that I activated the Portage Fire Department and got one of their suits and respirators,” Wyar said.
Those hazmat suits are typically only used for hazardous spills, according to Portage police Chief Ed Miller.
“If you would walk past the house on the sidewalk, it would make you walk faster,” Wyar said. “That’s how bad it is.”
Koban said the house was owned by a man named John Good, who is in a nursing home.
Distinctive Human Services, which provides elderly care in exchange for the patient’s assets, assumed ownership of the home when Good was admitted. Koban said the organization, upon learning of the property’s state, was concerned and very cooperative with the police investigation.
Jeannine Gailey, executive director of the Humane Society of Cambria County, was called in to remove the felines and assess their health. All 16 were flea-ridden, carrying disease and upper respiratory ailments, and had to be euthanized.
Portage police said they were thankful for the assistance from the Humane Society and the loan of the fire department gear, which allowed police to make safe and sanitary entry.
“When I questioned (Turchak), he really didn’t say too much,” Wyar said. “The whole time we were there, he didn’t seem to think there was a problem.”
Police said Turchak will be charged with cruelty to animals. He was ordered to leave the premises and is reported to be living with his girlfriend on Fremont Avenue.
He may be in need of a mental evaluation, according to police. The house was more than simply unsanitary.
“There’s something not particulary right there,” Koban said.
Borough officials said they looked to the state Department of Health to categorize the Prospect Street home as a biohazard zone. Wyar said he gave department officials a “very descriptive” analysis of the property.
Council members said the state department rebuffed their request, however, recommending they proceed according to the borough ordinance – although the borough ordinance requires the department’s involvement.
Council members will be looking into classifying the house under nuisance or unsafe property ordinances.
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