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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Your land has to meet standards to remain in the Land of the Free

Home of Roswell ‘chicken man' explodes, body found

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, By Alexis Stevens and Patrick Fox

It may be later this week before the body found inside a charred Roswell home is identified as that of "the chicken man," officials said late Monday. But Monday evening, neighbors stopping by to see the burned out home were saying their goodbyes.

Andrew Wordes, the Roswell man known for his fight to keep chickens at his home on Alpine Drive, is shown Tuesday Jan. 18, 2011 with one of his roosters, Gumbo.

Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.comAndrew Wordes, the Roswell man known for his fight to keep chickens at his home on Alpine Drive, is shown Tuesday Jan. 18, 2011 with one of his roosters, Gumbo.

The battle between one man and the city of Roswell that started over his keeping of chickens ended Monday afternoon in a fiery explosion. Investigators believe that rather than be evicted from his home, Andrew Wordes poured gasoline throughout the house and set it on fire.

"There was an initial explosion and subsequent fire," Lt. James McGee with Roswell police said during a news briefing.

A body was found inside the home, but a positive identification had not been made late Monday afternoon due to the condition of the body, Capt. Paul Piccirilli with the Roswell Fire Department said. The body was taken to the Fulton County Medical Examiner's Office for identification.

Positive identification could come as early as Tuesday, but could take longer if dental records are required, a spokeswoman for the Fulton County Medical Examiner's Office told the AJC Monday evening.

Investigators discovered an additional device in the home, possibly another explosive, and GBI bomb investigators were at the dwelling, McGee said.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last month, Wordes blamed the city for all of his woes that helped land him in foreclosure. Wordes apparently had fallen behind on his mortgage payments while in jail for violating various property codes.

"I'm still trying to get this resolved, but it doesn't look like it's going to be happy," Wordes had said.

On Monday, Roswell spokesperson Julie Brechbill said the whole city was saddened by the man's apparent death, but the events surrounding his pending eviction were tied to his failure to keep up payments on his house and did not involve the city.

Neighbors and friends of Wordes, known by many as "the chicken man," stood behind yellow crime tape Monday afternoon, shocked at the day's developments. Later in the evening, officers removed the crime tape, giving neighbors a closer look at what remained of the home.

John Cherok, who lives across the street from Wordes' two-story home, told the AJC he had just seen his neighbor Monday morning.

Wordes had helped Cherok over the weekend clearing tree limbs and piling them by the curb, and the two men discussed Monday whether the debris would be picked up by the local trash removal service.

"He said, ‘Today's going to be the day, anyway,' " Cherok told the AJC. "Obviously, he planned to end it this way."

Patti Silva, a Milton woman who befriended Wordes a couple of years ago and helped him through his recent troubles with the law, agreed.

“He planned this,” she said in a phone interview with the AJC.

Silva said she suspected Wordes had turned desperate after learning his property was set for seizure last month. She even shared her concerns with police, hoping to defuse a potentially dangerous situation.

Marshals informed the 53-year-old Wordes three weeks ago that he would be evicted, and they arrived at the home on Alpine Drive about 10:45 a.m. Monday, Antonio Johnson with the Fulton County Marshal's Office said.

Wordes refused to come out or allow anyone entry, officials said. Officers tried to speak to Wordes through the closed front door and a window. During the two-hour standoff, Wordes was in contact with Channel 2 Action News reporter Mike Petchenik, who was outside the residence.

Petchenik said Wordes called him Monday morning and told him to come to the home, and with the Channel 2 truck sitting outside his home, Wordes told Petchenik to tell the marshals to get off his property.

"Once he advised us to leave his property, we retreated," Johnson said. "And that's when the explosion happened."

Among Wordes' last words to Petchenik were, "I appreciate everything, brother. I appreciate everything you've done."

"I can't tell you" what's going to happen, Wordes said. "It ain't pretty, though."

Moments later, an explosion rocked the house.

Wordes began raising chickens on his .97-acre homestead just off Alpharetta Highway in 2005.

In February 2009, the city cited him for raising livestock after a neighbor filed a complaint.

Wordes fought back, winning over many residents when he took to the streets, handing out 500 chicks, to promote his cause. Supporters wore yellow T-shirts and "I Love Chickens" buttons to his court appearance.

His fight drew the attention of former Gov. Roy Barnes, who represented him in court and persuaded Municipal Judge Maurice Hilliard in May 2009 to throw out the city ordinance.

Neighbors told the AJC that financial troubles began for Wordes that September, when much of the man's home was flooded during epic rains that doused the metro Atlanta area.

Stacey Gervickas, who lived next door to Wordes for several years, said he couldn't afford to repair his home and take care of the animals he cherished.

"He kept picking at the city, and they kept picking back," Gervickas said. "And it's a house that nobody wants. It's so wasteful."

In December 2009, the city council approved a new ordinance banning roosters and using lot size to determine how many chickens a resident can keep.

Since then, Wordes' life has been a scrapbook of mishaps and scrapes with the law: repeated citations for code violations, nuisance complaints and traffic tickets.

Last summer, about a third of the birds on Wordes' property died mysteriously.

In November 2010, he pleaded guilty to violating city codes. He was arrested in August for violating his probation related to that citation and recently finished serving 99 days in jail.

After his release, he staked out as his home, waiting for authorities to arrive and remove him.

Silva, who was hosting an informal gathering of Wordes’ friends Monday, said the fight with the city took its toll.

Alpharetta resident Cindy McEntire went further, saying she blamed part of Wordes’ condition on harassment from Roswell.

“Andrew gave as good as he received, but there were a lot of citations and traffic stops on him,” she said in a phone interview. “After the flood, everything went downhill.”

-- Staff writer Joel Provano contributed to this report

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