South Wichita tenants get chance to assess damage after standoff

Justin Zoucha takes away some of his belongings from his apartment at Southlake Village on Tuesday. (July 16, 2013)
Justin Zoucha takes away some of his belongings from his apartment at Southlake Village on Tuesday. (July 16, 2013) The Wichita Eagle

On Tuesday evening, for the first time since a standoff with a gunman ended, Justin Zoucha and his next-door neighbors got to return to their apartments at Southlake Village in south Wichita and see the damage to Building 8.

And smell it.

“Carnage” is the word Zoucha uses to describe the damage to the apartment he shares with his three daughters, ages 12, 8 and 5.

The 31-year-old and his neighbors live under the two units of a South Seneca apartment complex that Jared Woosypiti occupied for 32 hours last week while police fired tear gas and a water cannon at him in an attempt to get him out. A police document says police gunfire killed Woosypiti, who was wanted in connection with a Derby stabbing and a Kmart robbery.

Just above Zoucha’s soggy living room carpet, mold has quickly grown on the wall.

“There’s mold all over the place,” Zoucha says.

White crumbles from the ceiling lie on his dining room table, where the remains of his Wal-Mart deli fried chicken and okra sit from dinner July 9. He went to work Wednesday morning last week; when he returned Wednesday afternoon, police told him he couldn’t go to his apartment.

“We have a situation,” they said.

Before the standoff, Zoucha said, he had made brief small-talk from time to time with Woosypiti and had thought the 24-year-old seemed like a “regular Joe.”

Now, in Zoucha’s kitchen, the ceiling is lying on the floor. A stench hangs there.

As he looks around the small apartment, at one time furnished comfortably with a couch, chairs, TV and other stuff, he says, “This is all 20 years of living,” meaning he amassed it over two decades.

“I don’t know how to put a price tag on it.”

He doesn’t have renter’s insurance, “and I was told that renter’s insurance will not cover this because it was not a natural disaster.”

He’s hoping to get compensated by the city, “but I don’t know anything for a fact,” he says.

“From life, I expect the worst, hope for the best.”

At times, Zoucha sounds positive. “The majority of the stuff is replaceable.”

He’s trying to shield his daughters from what happened. “I’m keeping them out of it.” His daughters are staying with their mother.

In the short term, he’s staying with family or friends but hopes to move into another apartment at the complex.

In the girls’ bedroom, their grandmother, Susan Zoucha, and aunt, Crystal Bush, find little, if anything, to salvage.

Zoucha carefully gathers some of his daughters’ artwork, though. He thinks some of it can be saved.

But it’s dank and humid in the waterlogged apartment, its missing windows newly boarded up. You can’t tell whether the crickets are chirping inside or outside.

Zoucha must use a flashlight to peer around inside, where natural light doesn’t leak in.

Zoucha was planning to work into the night Tuesday, going through the remains of his apartment, “until I get tired of the smell.”

Next door, 76-year-old Don Cruz and his 52-year-old son, Casanova Cruz, are also in assessment and recovery mode, assisted by relatives. Sweat pours down Casanova Cruz’s face as he steps outside. He wears a mask over his mouth and nose for protection.

Casanova Cruz says he’s upset because he thought they had renter’s insurance, only to learn that their insurance company showed that they had rental car insurance only. Don Cruz says his rough, early estimate of their loss is $15,000 to $25,000.

But he takes comfort that priceless family albums appear to have escaped damage. The albums date to the early 1900s, around the time the family emigrated from Mexico. The albums were in a box on top of another box.

Casanova Cruz had to leave the apartment before the standoff set in, with only the pajamas he wore. His family has bought him some new clothes.

“And I love them so much for doing that.”

His father says not being able to get in during the standoff and for about five days afterward weighed on him mentally. Just being able to return gave him a surge of energy, Don Cruz says.

“I feel so good that I was able to get in.”

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