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Family finds underground lair while clearing backyard
Purpose: Structure may have been used to grow marijuana.
When James and Tessa Lindley purchased a foreclosed home last year in Porterville, they never dreamed of finding what they discovered this week: an underground adventure.
The Lindleys bought the West Porterville home last May. The home had been in foreclosure since January 2008, Tessa Lindley said.
The couple and their son, Ethan, moved in, fully aware, they thought, of the work that needed to be done both inside and out.
That remained true until Wednesday, when they almost literally stumbled into an abandoned, underground structure that may have been used to grow marijuana.
Tessa Lindley’s sister, Tawny Barton, and their brother, Jayce Edwards, were helping the couple clear the backyard on Wednesday when they noticed what they suspected was a small sink hole at the corner of a concrete patio slab. As they checked on the hole, Edwards was pulling some weeds nearby.
“His foot just sunk,” Barton said, “and that’s when we thought we saw a dead body.”
They called Porterville police, who came and discovered what the family had taken for a deteriorating skull was in fact some exposed foam insulation. The attached “body” was more insulation material wrapped in plastic.
Tessa Lindley said police peered inside the underground structure, which at that point was only partially accessible, didn’t see any contraband, and left with an admonishment to call if they found anything illegal.
Police did not return a call Thursday afternoon seeking additional comment.
James Lindley described the situation at his home, as the impromptu excavation work continued on Wednesday.
“It’s been a circus here today,” he said.
Since then, the Lindleys have discovered two rooms and indications there may be at least two more.
They said at this point they’re concerned for the safety of 4-year-old Ethan, and about how to take care of the subterranean problem they’ve inherited.
“This would be a boy’s dream fort here, because it’s underground,” Tessa Lindley said. “He wants to go into it.”
To protect Ethan, Tessa Lindley said they have locked all doors leading to the backyard — from the outside as well. They’re also vigilant about Ethan’s whereabouts while he’s indoors. As for the liability, they’re going to check with their homeowner’s insurance carrier to see if they’ll cover the clean-up costs.
“This is nuts,” she said. “We have to tear up the whole yard to see how far it goes.”
Delbert Woods and Jerad Magana were there Thursday as Tessa Lindley and Barton inspected the site. Woods and Magana are doing cabinet work inside the home, and were there when the underground structure was unearthed.
“We just came to check it out,” Woods said.
Woods and Magana said whoever built the underground facility didn’t miss a trick.
Its supporting elements include railroad ties — for strength in the corners and along the roofline — and 4X4s and an assortment of other wood, concrete, tin sheeting and spray foam, presumably for insulation.
There’s running water, electricity and a ventilation system with fans possibly used to move air. The tin sheeting lining the walls is painted a reflective color. The site still boasts expensive lamps.
“It held all that dirt, and people walking on it,” Tessa Lindley said of the construction. “He had this very well built. It took us hours to uncover it.”
In the day since first discovering the underground lair, the Lindleys have done some digging of their own — for information. While uncovering the structure, they found a concrete ring they suspect was used to gain access to the structure. They also spoke with a neighbor, who said there used to be a shed in the area above the structure — a potential access point that would not draw attention.
For the Lindleys, the experience harkens to the oft-spoken cliché: Buyer beware.
“They keep thinking they’re done, then they find more,” Barton said. “It’s never going to end.”
Now the Lindleys are focusing on what’s next.
“We’re going to dig through and see what we uncover,” Tessa Lindley said. “I don’t know how we’re going to pull this all out.”
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