A Roswell man is dead, the victim of a violent explosion in his home yesterday that happened while Roswell, GA officials were serving him with an eviction notice. His name was Andrew Wordes, and many say he was driven to the desperate act because he wanted to keep chickens on his property as pets, and in Roswell, that’s not allowed (at least not the way that Andrew was doing it, it seems).
Of course, there are other factors that contributed to Mr. Wordes’ sad choice Monday. He had been jailed for three months recently for keeping his chickens on his land, in an apparent violation of a city of Roswell ordinance that provides strict guidelines for keeping chickens on property. Wordes had been cited in 2009 and while one judge ruled in his favor, a judge who later heard the matter ruled against the man who had come to be known as the “Chicken Man.”
As a result of his incarceration, Wordes fell behind on his mortgage payment. His house had also recently flooded and was severely damaged, requiring more repairs than he could afford. Wordes was also ill with advanced Crohn’s disease and had been very sick in recent months. Friends and neighbors who knew the man well said he was simply tired, worn down from fighting for something that mattered very much to him.
By all accounts, Andrew Wordes was a kind and generous man, always willing to help others without asking anything in return. I know this personally, because he had helped my elderly father on several occasions of his own volition and without expecting payment. My sister and her children knew him very well; his kind and gentle demeanor seemed to touch those who knew him.
There was even a “Save the Roswell Chicken Man” Facebook page. A lot of people sided with Wordes, and during his incarceration, word spread among other property owners and people throughout Georgia and beyond who wanted to keep chickens either as pets or as a source of healthier eggs than are often found on supermarket shelves.
I understand that laws are laws and that we need them to keep order and peace; we humans are an unruly bunch. Just a couple of years ago, I reported a story out of Winder in which a pack of rogue chickens (left behind by their former owners) was attacking people who had the misfortune to walk past their hood hangout in the woods. The chickens were attacking passersby, and the city’s solution to the problem was to put a $500 hit on the rooster, which in turn solved the problem. True story.
In Mr. Wordes’ tragic case, I fear (as I do anytime government encroaches on property rights), that cooler minds did not prevail. Compassion, understanding and common sense did not prevail. The man felt defeated, cornered; his dire circumstances did not matter. And even to the end he remained considerate of others, warning a news reporter and marshalls to back away from the house before the explosion happened.
And now we have this. Over chickens.
How do you feel about chickens being kept – responsibly – on adequate acreage? Do city officials and staff have any responsibility to understand the person and the “big picture” before mandating incarceration or an eviction?
Carole Townsend is also a Gwinnett Daily Post staff correspondent and author of the recently-released book, “Southern Fried White Trash.” The book takes a humorous look at families and how we behave when thrown together for weddings, funerals and holidays. She has been quoted on msnbc.com, in the LA Times, USA Today and the Christian Science Monitor, been featured on FOX 5 News and CNN, and is often a guest on television and radio shows nationwide.