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Good news for apartment resident plagued by bedbugs

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Sam Morris

Lawrence Cabrera’s box spring and mattress show signs of severe bedbug infestation Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011.

Updated Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011 | 4:54 p.m.

Bedbugs at Siegel Suites

Lawrence Cabrera's box spring and mattress show signs of severe bedbug infestation Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011. Launch slideshow »
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J. Patrick Coolican

Lawrence Cabrera has been complaining for months to the management of the Siegel Suites Twain II location about bedbugs.

Finally, last week he called the Southern Nevada Health District, which found “significant bedbug infestation” at his studio apartment this week, according to a document he showed me. A Sun photographer documented the obvious infestation.

Cabrera, 62, said he was injured while working for the Union Pacific Railroad a decade ago and is on federal disability. He uses a wheelchair and suffers from nerve damage and asthma.

He’s a veteran of the U.S. Army.

Once the health department official told Siegel Suites management it had 14 days to eradicate the bedbugs, Cabrera was given a to-do list before the exterminators arrive Monday. He needs to bag his belongings, sweep, dust and vacuum his unit.

But of course, he’s unable to do so because of his disability. He says the management told him it will serve an eviction notice if he doesn’t do what’s required.

His family is in Colorado; he has a woman who comes by once per month to deliver groceries. Cabrera said that since he moved to Siegel Suites in February 2010, the ceiling of his bathroom collapsed, and he endured a break-in attempt while he was in the unit.

His rent is $650 per month.

When I alerted the health department about the threat of eviction, a spokeswoman said that on Monday morning she would be contacting Elder Protective Services and Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada.

Some background on bedbugs: As the Sun noted in 2008, they were mostly eradicated by the chemical agent DDT after World War II, but began to surface again in the late 1990s and are now thriving. They are six-legged, reddish-brown insects that are nocturnal, feasting on as much as three times their weight in a single human “blood meal.” They are famously difficult to exterminate, hiding in the tiniest crevices and surviving all manner of chemical agents. They are also highly mobile, so it’s possible they aren’t isolated in Cabrera’s unit.

I went to the Siegel Suites office to speak to a manager Saturday to ask if this is an appropriate way to treat someone, especially a disabled veteran, but the manager was not in.

I left a message, and will update you when they get back to me.

Update: I’ve been in contact with a manager from Siegel Suites, and the eviction notice is going to be delayed while we get Cabrera some help.

Meanwhile, a few readers have come forward to volunteer. Joe Restifo, who specializes in bedbug eradication and was profiled in the Las Vegas Sun in 2009, has offered to prepare the apartment for eradication, and if need be, to do the eradication himself or enlist the help of other companies if that’s required. Thank you to Siegel Suites for reconsidering the fate of Cabrera, and a bigger thank you to Restifo and readers who have offered to help.

Update: A Siegel Suites executive called Monday and said they had contacted Jewish Family Services Agency to get Cabrera help, but that Cabrera refused their assistance. They also noted that they had offered to move Cabrera to their location on Boulder Highway so he could be in a more handicap-accessible unit and said they would have paid for his moving expenses, but he refused.

Cabrera says Jewish Family Services never came to his apartment. Of the offer to move him, Cabrera said he was reluctant because his current location is less than a block from both a grocery store and his bank. On Boulder Highway, he would have been far from both.

Siegel Suites said Cabrera had refused entry to the company’s designated exterminator.

Cabrera told me they did spray once, but the situation only worsened. In point of fact, the bed needs to be hermetically sealed and disposed of, and the entire unit needs significant eradication.

Having spent considerable time with Cabrera, I’m sure he can be stubborn and is not the easiest person to help because he fears being taken advantage of and losing control over his situation, which is quite understandable for a man now disabled who once did physical tasks for the Army and a railroad.

As the original column noted, we left a message for Siegel Suites Saturday. Ordinarily, we wouldn’t run something without first speaking to them, but the situation was urgent: Cabrera faced an eviction notice Monday morning, and we thought it was important to get the word out and get Cabrera some help, so it ran without input from Siegel Suites. We stand by that decision.

As of now, a legal nonprofit and the health department are working to resolve the issue. As noted, we’ve received generous offers of help from several people in the community. I’ll be writing in the coming weeks about the entire situation as it is resolved and Cabrera is living in a bedbug-free domicile.

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