Maryland

Montgomery Co. Sues to Have Mysterious Tunnels Under Burned Home Repaired

A lawsuit says a network of tunnels found under a Maryland home after a deadly fire haven't been repaired, leaving the area with conditions "dangerous and hazardous" to human life and the public welfare.

Montgomery County filed the lawsuit Friday, according to The Washington Post. It seeks to require the home's owner, David Beckwitt, and Daniel Beckwitt, described as the tunnels' creator, to comply with county departments' requests to demolish the home and fill the tunnels.

The lawsuit says the excavations extend beyond the home into the public right of way in front of the house and possibly to at least another property.

The tunnels were discovered after a September fire that killed 21-year-old Askia Khafra.

An attorney listed as representing the Beckwitts didn't respond Monday to the newspaper's request for comment.

After the fire, explosives teams and bomb technicians spent hours combing through evidence at the Danbury Road property. They found the mysterious tunnels under the yard.

"This has been an incredibly complicated fire scene for our investigations," Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service Battalion Chief Daniel Ogren said as teams searched for clues about what happened. 

Khafra died from smoke inhalation and burns, but the manner of his death has not been made public, Montgomery County Fire spokesperson Pete Piringer said.

Khafra was a young entrepreneur who dreamed of success in the business world, his mother told News4 on a brief phone call. 

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"He had a lot of people that cared about him," said Brandon Cobb, who described himself as Khafra's best friend. The two grew up together.

Cobb said he never met Beckwitt but understood that Khafra was working for him. 

"The only thing he mentioned is he was doing some sort of renovation," Cobb said. 

Investigators collected and tested chemicals they found stored on the property, which is about a mile northwest of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. They found electrical wiring and hoarding conditions. A piece of heavy earth-moving equipment sat in the backyard. 

The resident of the house did "excavation" of the property, Montgomery County police department spokesman Paul Starks said.

Officials declined to immediately provide additional details about why the tunnels might have been dug.

First-responders received a call about the fire about 4 p.m. Sept. 10.

Beckwitt was able to escape and yell for help, but Khafra was trapped in the basement. 

Beckwitt suffered minor injuries. He was taken to a hospital and later released. Khafra was pronounced dead. 

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, Piringer confirmed Monday.

Neighbors said they want answers.

"I want to know whether there was anything wrong with the house itself or whether it was a gas line or whether there was something strange going on there -- and we just don't know," one neighbor said.

"I think the main question is, where is this gentleman [Khafra] was working for?" Khafra's friend, Cobb, said. "I think everyone just wants closure." 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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