BETHESDA, Md. - Montgomery County says underground tunnels beneath a Bethesda home are a hazard to the public and the county is seeking legal action to get the house torn down.
It is a story FOX 5 has been following for months after a fire at the home in September killed a man working there. Investigators went on to discover an extensive network of underground tunnels at the house on Danbury Road.
In a lawsuit filed against the homeowners, David and Daniel Beckwitt, county officials say the network of tunnels is larger than they originally thought and extend across property lines, and even under Danbury Road.
The county filed the lawsuit because it says the Beckwitts have not responded to orders to repair or tear down the house.
Daniel Beckwitt was living at the home at the time of the fire and escaped.
Askia Khafra, 21, was found dead inside the house. His family says he had been hired to work on the tunnels.
At a community meeting in January, Khafra’s father told the crowd that before his son died, he had told his girlfriend about tunnels 100 feet long, 15 feet below ground level and special rooms he was not allowed into.
While investigators have concluded Khafra died from smoke inhalation and thermal injuries, they still have not ruled his death accidental or a homicide. The cause of the fire also remains unknown.
FOX 5 has been unable to reach Beckwitt for comment.
Videos online show Beckwitt speaking at hacking conferences. According to news reports, during his time as an engineering student at the University of Illinois, he was accused of tampering with campus email accounts, damaging locks at one computer lab and installing "key loggers" on keyboards at another engineering building to access sensitive information. A few months later, he pleaded guilty to computer fraud and was sentenced to probation
Police say they have interviewed Beckwitt, but have not gotten clear answers about why he dug the tunnels.
“When you move into a house and there is crime scene tape next door, you want to know what is going on,” said Olivia Wolski, who recently started renting the home next to Beckwitts.
From her yard, an excavator, bags of concrete, wooden slabs and electrical cords are visible in the yard along with large piles of belongings.
“There is a lot of really weird stuff. There is the concrete over there. There are a lot of gas containers like propane,” Wolski said. “It’s basically just a giant mess.”
Montgomery County police and the fire department are continuing a joint investigation into the case. Federal officials are also involved.