May 21 • 03:17 AM

An unwelcome surprise

Buildup of ice, snow blamed in roof collapse at Imlay business

A demolition crew made short work of what remained of the new car showroom at Imlay City Ford on Friday. The building’s roof collapsed Wednesday evening from the weight of accumulated snow and ice. photo by Tom Wearing.

February 20, 2008
IMLAY CITY — Employees at Imlay City Ford got a rude surprise when they reported for work Thursday morning.

They discovered that the roof of the dealership's new car showroom had collapsed, resulting in the temporary closure of the business at 1788 S. Cedar St. (M-53). The used car showroom, located just north of the facility, was undamaged and remains operational.

Investigators said the damage occurred sometime after closing time Wednesday, but before 8:30 p.m. when a pair of Lapeer County Sheriff's deputies detected a strong odor of natural gas coming from the area of the dealership.

On further inspection, Deputy Mike Tappen and reserve Deputy Harold Kirsch found the building's roof had collapsed. Kirsch, an employee of Consumers Power, immediately shut off the gas supply to the building.

Imlay City Fire Chief Kip Reaves credited the deputies with having acted quickly, possibly averting an explosion.

"When the roof came down, it severed the gas line," said Reaves. "We're thankful that the deputies found the problem and that the building didn't explode."

Reaves added that Detroit Edison workers had to be called to turn off the electricty to the site, to avoid possible injury to firefighters.

By noon Thursday, business owners Paul LaFontaine Sr., his son, Paul LaFontaine Jr. and their staff, had emptied the building of much of its important contents, excepting a brand-new, red Ford Mustang that appeared to have absorbed some of the brunt of the collapse.

With insurance adjusters on site, the owners were already making plans to get the business up and running again.

Paul LaFontaine Jr. said he was grateful that no one was in the building at the time of the collapse, sparing injury or worse to his employees and customers.

"Normally, our cleaning crew would have been in here at the time," he said, "but one of the guys had a basketball game. We were very fortunate."

With emergency generators and heaters placed into action and phone service restored by mid-day Thursday, Paul LaFontaine Sr. expected the dealership's service department to reopen within the day. He added that a trailer would be set up at the site as a temporary sales office.

Reaves attributed the roof's collapse to the accumulated weight of snow and ice on the roof. An insurance adjuster estimated the damage to the 1989 building and its contents at about $500,000.

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