By Steve Roberts Jr
Staff writer
Virginia Gazette
April 26, 2019

Nine months and seven days after a helicopter crashed into a 10-unit residential complex in the Bristol Commons neighborhood of Williamsburg, the city gave the thumbs up to rebuild.

The 1100 block building on Settlement Drive was mostly destroyed in the July 8 crash. One resident and the pilot of the helicopter died.

By the end of July, the city issued a demolition permit to Belfor Property Restoration to allow engineers to demolish burned materials and interior finishes to determine the structural integrity of the complex.

On April 15, the city of Williamsburg signed off on a building permit for Belfor to reconstruct the complex according to schematics created by New Town architectural firm Guernsey Tingle.

The plans call for more demolition and the eventual reconstruction of nearly the entire building. Only two homes in the 10-unit complex will remain standing, although they’ll be taken down to their framing.

The permit was issued on March 15, but the Chesapeake-based Belfor took a month to pay for the $430.29 permit, according to the permit. The total value of the work to be done is listed as $130,850.

When finished, the complex will look nearly identical to how it looked on July 7, and it will remain similar to the other buildings in the complex.
The Bristol Commons Homeowners Association’s spokesman Paul Leslie did not immediately return a request for comment. Leslie is listed as the point of contact for the architect and engineers on the building schematics.

For Mary Jo Jones, one of those displaced by the crash, the reconstruction is a new opportunity even after the death of her husband of 47 years Don.
“It should be really nice,” Jones said. “But without my husband, it wouldn’t be the same.”

She fondly remembers her condominium, number 1103. “It was the nicest of the whole (complex). We had no stairs, which we liked, it was the ground floor. When you walked out our front door there was grass out there.”

During the construction phase, residents will be allowed to upgrade parts of their homes, according to the site plans. For Jones, that means new, white kitchen cabinets and maybe a new countertop.

But in the months after the crash, The Virginia Gazette reported that the pilot behind the controls was flying illegally.

Federal Aviation Administration records showed that the pilot of the helicopter, 85-year-old Henry E. Schwarz of Fairfax County, had his medical certificate revoked after he was diagnosed with dementia, cognitive decline, tremors and Parkinson’s disease.

In January, homeowners at Bristol Commons were told my Schwarz’s helicopter’s insurance company they wouldn’t pay for any of the damages.

“Based on our investigation … that insurance coverage … including all claims for injuries damages, and losses related thereto that are or may be asserted by your client and/or by any third parties, is hereby denied,” the letter said.

“It was just unfortunate that the person who crashed into it didn’t have good insurance,” Jones said. “Nobody’s going to get anything out of it so that’s really a shame.”

The homeowners association has been working with its insurer, Nationwide Insurance, to pay for the reconstruction. In January, Leslie told homeowners Nationwide had agreed to cut a check for about $1.5 million to rebuild. Most residents also had their own insurance at the time of the crash too, Jones among them.

The crash remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. Investigators have not said when they expect to have a final report on the crash.

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