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Arlington owner called to court, trial scheduled for July 1

Justin Sellers / The Natchez Democrat — Vegetation overtakes historic Arlington on State Street Wednesday after a 2002 fire left the house abandoned. The house’s owner is facing hefty fines for allegedly violating the city’s code regarding overgrown properties.

Justin Sellers / The Natchez Democrat — Vegetation overtakes historic Arlington on State Street Wednesday after a 2002 fire left the house abandoned. The house’s owner is facing hefty fines for allegedly violating the city’s code regarding overgrown properties.

NATCHEZ — Nearly four years after not showing up to hear his own guilty verdict, the owner of crumbling historic Arlington made an appearance Monday in municipal court for what could be the start of another trial for ongoing neglect of the property.

Municipal Court Judge Pro Tem Tony Heidelberg said Dr. Thomas Vaughan of Jackson appeared in environmental court, which is a division of municipal court, for an arraignment for violating the city’s code regarding overgrown properties.

Heidelberg said Vaughan pleaded not guilty, as he did in 2009 when he appeared before Municipal Court Judge Jim Blough for charges of demolition by neglect and abandonment of a motor vehicle.

Vaughan did not appear a month later for his trial in Blough’s court. Blough fined Vaughan approximately $550 plus 10 days in jail, suspended.

A great deal of confusion has surrounded the actual amount of fines Vaughan owes the city for neglecting the property. City officials have said it totals as much as nearly $50,000 — from a $100-a-day fine for every day the property was not cleaned up since Blough’s 2009 ruling — and as little as $2,500 for the grass cutting work public works did on the property.

Heidelberg said he believes the city’s latest action in the ongoing neglect case should get some results.

“I think it’s a good start to basically getting something going with that property,” he said.

If found guilty, Vaughan could be facing possible jail time and a $1,500-a-day fine for every day he has not corrected the violations since being notified of the latest violations, which was a little more than a month ago, Heidelberg said.

If Vaughan is fined and does not pay the fines, he could be facing contempt of court charges, which could result in additional fines and/or jail time, Heidelberg said.

The neglect of the Arlington house will not be addressed in the trial, Heidelberg said, but could be addressed at a later date.

“Basically we’re taking it one step at a time and trying to work with (Vaughan) to correct the problem,” he said.

The house suffered severe fire damage, which destroyed the roof and the second floor in September 2002. A roof was installed on the house shortly after the fire, but no other work has been done to protect the house from weather or vandalism.

The house was named the second most endangered historic property in Mississippi by the Mississippi Heritage Trust in 2009. The Mississippi Heritage Trust has released a 10 most endangered places list since 1999. Once properties are placed on the list, many are given priority for grant funding and other assistance.

Vaughan’s trial will be one of four that is scheduled to come before Heidelberg on July 1.