Nine years after authorities called his Hillyard tire pile an immediate health risk and a “mosquito-breeding nuisance,” John Lindsay remains the tire king of Spokane.
Authorities estimate 15,000 tires are stacked in black hills and packed into a dozen semitrailers on his property, making it one of the city’s worst fire hazards.
That’s a fraction of the 800,000 tires Lindsay once kept there. But it’s still enough to evacuate “half the city” if the piles catch fire and the wind blows southeast.
“If the weather was clear, I bet you could see it clear from Coeur d’Alene,” said Deputy Fire Marshal Greg Hess. “It would take days to put out.”
Lindsay has maintained an illegal tire pile at 4230 E. Central almost continuously for nine years, defying court orders from state, county and city authorities.
In court, he has promised three times to get rid of the tires. Each time, he missed deadlines and was caught maintaining and even building the tire pile.
The state Department of Ecology once paid more than $1 million to remove hundreds of thousands of Lindsay’s tires. Six months later, he was back at it, hauling in truck loads.
“It goes on and on,” said Steve Holderby, environmental resources supervisor for the Spokane County Health District.
“It’s kind of one of those situations where you work at it and work at it and work at it, and still don’t get total compliance. It can be frustrating.”
Lindsay is now cleaning his property, carting away hundreds of tires in trucks to belatedly comply with a January 1996 court order.
Now city prosecutors are charging him with several misdemeanor nuisance counts. The trial date is Aug. 15.
Reached Wednesday night, Lindsay said he’s being unfairly persecuted by the city. “They’re taking away my right to make a living,” he said.
The problem continues because various state and local agencies have batted around the issue of who should force Lindsay to get rid of his tires.
The health district turned over enforcement to Ecology, which has now turned the case over to city code enforcers.
“As a taxpayer, I’d be mad,” said Code Enforcement Officer Scott Emmerson.
While authorities chase Lindsay, the 56-year-old businessman has been making money. He is paid $2 to $5 for each tire he hauls away from tire manufacturers.
He sells some at his three tire shops - two in Hillyard and one on East Sprague. Others he takes to a recycling plant in Noxon, Mont.
Lindsay said he can’t run his business without keeping a large supply of tires on hand.
Two attempts in court to stop him with civil suits fizzled when he made some efforts to comply. Then he started collecting more tires. City officials think they can finally stop Lindsay by pressing criminal charges.
“We hope this puts an end … to the worst tire pile in the city,” said Emmerson, who estimates he has spent at least 200 hours setting up a case against Lindsay.
If convicted, he faces up to 240 days in jail and a $3,000 fine.
Authorities have dogged Lindsay because of the serious health risk his property poses. Clouds of mosquitoes nesting in the tires bombard neighbors every night.
“We didn’t have any mosquitoes before he started collecting tires,” said Theresa McKay, who can see Lindsay’s property out her kitchen window.
But fire is the biggest concern. Even small tire fires release toxic chemicals in thick plumes of smoke. Exposure causes irritated skin, breathing problems and even kidney damage.
“I’ll tell you, tire fires are a mess,” said Hess. “They are a nuisance and could mean a lot of evacuations.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo Graphic: Map of area.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: JOHN LINDSAY AND TIRES June 1984: Buys 3.5 acres in Hillyard. July 1987: Superior Court lawsuit contends the site is a “mosquito-breeding nuisance” harming the aquifer. May 1989: Lindsay misses Spokane County Health Department deadline to clean up his property. Feb. 1994: Faced with the a bill for cleaning the site, Lindsay accepts Department of Ecology offer for a free clean-up. More than 400,000 tires are hauled off. Lindsay stops the clean-up. June 1995: Authorities find about 300,000 tires. Lindsay is charged with criminal nuisance. Jan. 1996: Lindsay pleads guilty and is ordered to remove all but 800 tires by July. May 1996: Authorities find 25,000 tires on property. July 1996: Lindsay misses the deadline. A criminal trial is set for Aug. 15. Source: Spokane Superior Court documents.