One downtown Sterling building down, another likely to be felled next week

Investigations into cause, circumstances of the fire continue

Am excavator sits where a 3-story apartment building was demolished following a July fire that also took the life of one tenant. Two apartment buildings on Fourth Avenue, located to the west of the building were also damaged.

STERLING – Demolition of the downtown Sterling apartment building at 406-408 E. Third St., where a man died in a fire July 7, wrapped up Friday, but the fate of two of three other buildings involved still is up in the air.

One of the three, however, at 304 Fourth Ave., is so badly damaged by debris that fell on it during the fire – leaving it with hole the size of a pickup truck in one wall – that it also will be demolished, probably early next week, said Patrick Burke of Burke Excavating of Tampico, who was hired to tear down it and 406-408.

The building at 304, which was not occupied, is owned by Jestun Gatz of Sterling, who also owns Silver Ridge Golf Course in Oregon, Valley Oaks Golf Course in Clinton, Iowa, and two others, as well as eight or so other residential properties in Sterling and Rock Falls.

It is behind, or north, of the two-story at 302 Fourth Ave., where three tenants were displaced also because falling debris destabilized that building.

That building is scheduled to be inspected Sept. 15, and a decision on what to do with it will be made soon after, Brian Carradus of Kurt & Brian Properties LLC said Friday. He and his partner, Kurt Studnick, own 302; their property management office also is in the building.

Like the three-story building that burned, the fourth building involved belongs to Mihail “Mike” Mihalios, 71, of Chicago. It is a two-story due east of the site, at 412-414 E. Third St., and houses a laundry that Mihalios owns; the apartments were not occupied.

Now that the neighboring shell is down, it, too, will be assessed and dealt with, depending on the extent of the damage. In any event, it will need asbestos abatement before it can be torn down, City Manager Scott Shumard said.

In the meantime, no one is allowed to enter any of the three remaining structures, which technically the city condemned pending demolition assessments.

It took Burke three days to tear down the ruins of 406-408, fill in its basement and haul away the rubble. Mihalios’ insurance company was responsible for the cleanup.

The fire began about 2:20 a.m., apparently on the third floor of the circa 1920 building.

Juan Antonio “Tony” Anaya, 62, died in the fire, along with a German shepherd he was dog-sitting. His remains were recovered July 11. An official cause of death still is pending forensic autopsy results, Coroner Joe McDonald said Friday.

Kimberly Johnson, 56, who jumped from her fiery third-floor apartment, was being treated at OSF St. Anthony Medical Center in Rockford but was moved to a rehabilitation facility, a spokeswoman there said.

The demolished building had eight apartments on the second and third floors and 13 tenants. There were two vacant commercial spots on the first floor.

The cause of the fire is not yet known to local officials – the ATF National Response Team, which is taking the lead in the investigation into the cause, has not yet turned in its report to Sterling police and the city.

Pignatelli & Associates of Rock Falls also is investigating, on behalf of Anaya’s son, Gaspar; daughter, Kaila; and sister, Vannes; and of former tenant Alfredo Miranda Calderon.

Calderon was injured when he jumped from the burning building to the roof of a neighboring building with his daughter in his arms, then jumped to the ground, the law firm said in a news release.

Attorneys there anticipate filing lawsuits after their investigation and are asking anyone with information on the fire or the state of the building to contact them at 815-626-0500 or

Kathleen Schultz

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.