Body of NYC storm victim lay undetected for months

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 27, 2013 at 4:02 pm •  Published: June 27, 2013
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She said it wasn't entirely clear where he was living. Lancaster, who the family said looked slightly frail, told her he didn't want to settle in one place.

As the storm approached and the neighborhood evacuated, Sylvester said he went looking for Lancaster to see if he wanted to leave with the family, but never found him.

After the Oct. 29 storm, many neighborhood residents were unable to return to their homes. Even today, some buildings remain empty or under repair. Vaughan and Sylvester were away for two months, living in a FEMA-funded apartment, before they came back.

The lot where Lancaster's trailer sat has been vacant for many years and, at just 15 feet wide, is easy to miss. Someone passing by would probably assume, wrongly, that it is the side yard of one of the bungalows that sit next door.

The company that owns the plot, the Master Sheet Co., hasn't paid any property taxes on the parcel for years, according to city records, and it wasn't clear whether anyone associated with the business was aware someone was living on the property. A lawyer for the owners, Robert Rosenblatt, said Wednesday that he wasn't immediately able to reach his clients.

New York City's Office of Emergency Management spokesman Christopher Miller said that search and rescue teams searched 30,000 homes in areas hit by the storm, but hadn't entered the trailer.

"As nobody had reported the deceased missing and we had no reason to believe that someone had been (illegally) residing in the trailer, we did not seek access to the structure," he said in an email.

The lot where Lancaster died remained filled with junk this week, including an old office chair, plastic crates and bottles and stuffed animals. The trailer — barely big enough to stand in — is itself filled with trash.

Vaughan said that when her family returned home, she wondered what had become of Lancaster, but never suspected that he had been killed or that his body was in the trailer, which sits on cinder blocks just a few feet from her home.

"He was like a fixture of the community. We were wondering what happened to him," said Vaughan. "We would've taken him with us."