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Focus of Falls tragedy ready to pack it in Hedges says she plans to fix up her property and move away, much to neighbors' pleasure

NIAGARA FALLS -- Eva Hedges says she has given up fighting City Hall. She plans to fix her property and then move out of the city.

Her neighbors say that will be fine with them.

The 63-year-old Hedges has been in the eye of a neighborhood storm since August 2008, when a 12-year-old girl in her family's care drowned during a hike in the Niagara Gorge.

More than a year later, Hedges still faces a charge that she violated the city zoning ordinance by running an illegal bed-and-breakfast from her single-family home at 722 Fourth St. -- even after the drowning.

The city Zoning Board of Appeals earlier this month unanimously rejected her request for variances for three sheds and a gazebo, which take up more than 30 percent of her backyard, as well as an illegal fence, which is higher than the 6-foot height limit in the city.

During a City Court appearance last week, a city judge ordered the structures taken down by mid-November.

Hedges told The Buffalo News before the court appearance that she already has started the work. She said she plans to move away from the city and its unfriendly inhabitants, then write a book about the "whole story" of her desire to open a business in Niagara Falls, her lengthy code violation case and the drowning.

"I just want this to be finished with. I'm just sick and tired of this. I just want this to be done," Hedges said last week.

"I hope she makes a lot of money from her book and she can give the money to [Magdalena Lubowska's] family," said Fourth Street resident Marc Grossman.

Neighbors, who include Grossman and Thomas and Judith Schiera, are among those who say Hedges has nobody to blame but herself for her predicament -- that she violated city regulations and got involved in a business she was incapable of running.

The Hedges home made news Aug. 13, 2008, when a group of children of Polish descent were staying there and went for a hike into the gorge. During the hike, Magdalena, of the Bronx, slipped into the Niagara River and drowned.

Hedges' son Timothy was leading the hike on his own, with 23 children.

Since the drowning, Magdalena's parents have accused Eva Hedges of operating an illegal summer camp for the families of Polish immigrants in her home. They also have pressed Niagara County District Attorney Michael J. Violante to file criminal charges in the case.

Violante said last year that his office was investigating the matter. He had no comment on the current status of the case last week.

Thomas Schiera said he and City Building and Housing Inspector Robert Ingrasci visited the Hedges property the day of the drowning, after the city received complaints about children playing on the roof.

They got word of the drowning while they were taking a look at the property.

"I've got records of me calling the city two or three years ago [with my complaints about her violations]," Thomas Schiera said last week. "If the city would have done something back then, that little girl wouldn't have died . . . [Instead], it turned into a train wreck."

The month before the drowning, Hedges was served papers by the city, including being told to remove tents from her yard. They were taken down after the drowning.

The city filed a cease-and-desist order in the days after Magdalena's death, and officials said they were monitoring the home. In November 2008, those officials said, Hedges violated an order that prohibited her from using the property as a paid lodging when she took out advertisements offering rooms for rent, and neighbors reporting seeing vehicles parked near the house with out-of-state license plates.

Judith Schiera wrote to The News, saying that she was saddened that this illegal venture may have cost a 12-year-old girl her life. Hedges, she said, may have been "sneaking around operating a bed-and-breakfast for the past four years."

"No one lives in a house that long for free," Schiera wrote.

Hedges has denied that she ever operated a bed-and-breakfast. She has called the summer camp a charity camp, which she operated for a Polish church.

She told The News that after she was told not to operate a "bed-and-breakfast," she thought it was all right to have someone rent a room as long as she wasn't giving them any meals. That's why she advertised late last year, she said, although she said she never rented a room.

Hedges said a lot of friends stay with her but they don't pay. She said she was losing money but had hoped someday to open a bed-and-breakfast.

She now realizes that will never happen.

Hedges vowed to leave Niagara Falls, tired of all the anger from her neighbors.

"They could have just knocked on my door," she complained, "but instead they had to involve the authorities and the attorneys."

Hedges is scheduled to return to court by Nov. 16.

Ingrasci, the city housing inspector, accompanied her and her attorney, George V.C. Muscato, back to her home after a court appearance last Monday, to review the work that needed to be done.

City Judge Robert P. Merino told Hedges, "The clock is ticking on this case," and reminded her that her case has been adjourned numerous times. He also said that the city has the right to request restitution if it takes more than 45 days for Hedges to address the zoning violations.

Muscato assured the court that the work would be done.

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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