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Vigilante Videographer Vexes

Very Vaporous Vendor

Restaurant Owner Caught With His Pump Down



August 28, 2014

When Brian Saunders – a southeastern Guilford County resident who has complained for years of foul-smelling odors emanating from poor septic disposal practices at a nearby restaurant – couldn’t get any satisfaction from the Guilford County Health Department after years of complaints, he became a vigilante videographer and took matters into his own hands.


After catching wind that Steve Holmes, the owner of the restaurant, might be up to no good one night last week, Saunders, with the help of his iPhone’s video camera, caught the owner of the restaurant surreptitiously pumping the septic tank contents into a field next to Saunders’ home.


The offending restaurant, the Four Winds Cafe, is appropriately named because it has been spreading the scent of wastewater north, east, south and west around its 5924 Liberty Road address, which is roughly two miles south of the Forest Oaks community.


After Saunders had had it up to his nose with foul fumes from the restaurant in the southeastern corner of the county, on Wednesday, August 20 Saunders and his girlfriend went on their nighttime mission and caught video of Holmes, the head chef as well as owner of the Four Winds Cafe, pumping liquid out of his septic tank into a nearby field that had been condemned for septic disposal.


“I caught him red-handed,” Saunders told the Rhino Times, providing compelling video evidence to back up his claims.


Apparently, Guilford County health officials agreed.  They have since issued an “intent to suspend” notice for the business.  That notice means that the Four Winds Cafe will be shut down if it doesn’t take corrective action.  The conditions Holmes must meet, along with any fines, are still being determined by the state and county.


Saunders’ property is adjacent to the Four Winds Cafe and he said the smell from the septic field and septic tanks, which were installed earlier this year, often made it unbearable to sit in his house with the windows closed – even, he said, in the dead of winter with the heat running.


“I have been filing hundreds of complaints with Guilford County water quality for over six years regarding the smell and drainage of the cafe’s malfunctioning septic field,” Saunders wrote in an email to the Rhino Times.  “I eventually took the matter to the state health dept. because nothing was being done.  FINALLY in May or June the folks at water quality condemned the field, which required Chef Holmes to install three holding tanks that are to be pumped when full.”


However, at about 10 p.m. on August 20, Saunders caught the nocturnal chef serving up a lot more than food to the area.


“He was pumping the contents of his septic holding tanks back on top of the septic field, which I had fought to have condemned in the first place,” Saunders said, pointing to the video to back up his claim.


The video, which was taken on iPhones by Saunders and his girlfriend, is reminiscent of Blair Witch Project shaky-cam camera work, and the confrontation captured plays out like an ambush interview on a local TV newscast, but it certainly gets Saunders point across.  It shows Holmes standing over the septic tank holding a flashlight with a pump running.  The septic tank is feeding into a long pipe that empties its contents on to a field next to Saunders’ home.


In the video, Saunders approaches Holmes and asks him, “What’s going on out here?” to which a startled Holmes replies, “I got a bunch of water that … My ice machine –”


Saunders interrupts him and states, “No, this isn’t ice; this is [deleted] water, because it’s been in your [deleted] well.”


Holmes replies, “No, this is just pure water here.”


“No, this cannot be just pure water here,” Saunders responds, adding that since it had been in the septic tank, it was, by definition, polluted water.


At one point in the video, Saunders asks Holmes: “Is this legal what you’re doing here?  It is?  Really?  Is that why you’re doing it at 10 o’clock at night?”


In another video taken the next morning, Saunders shows the arrival of a truck from Ward Brothers septic tank service based in Greensboro on Randleman Road.  The Ward Brothers employee proceeds to empty the septic tank.


Saunders said he has been complaining to the Guilford County Health Department for over six years.


“A well-functioning septic field should not smell like that,” Saunders said.


He said that earlier this year, fed up with no resolution of the issue by the Guilford County Health Department, which is now part of the county’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), he decided to go to the state.


 He said he complained of the foul odor for years, but that no real action was taken until he got the state environmental officials involved, and even after that, he said, problems persisted.


According to Saunders, after he complained to environmental officials at the NC Department of Health and Human Services in Raleigh, the septic field problem was addressed and Holmes was required to put in three septic tanks and hire a septic removal service to periodically empty those tanks.  However, as recent events make clear, some odor and waste disposal problems have persisted.


Saunders said that, since he’s in the construction business, he knows a lot about proper septic disposal and he said the Four Winds Cafe has been doing it in sordid ways for years, often with a malfunctioning disposal system.


Another resident who lives in the area said that it has stunk on and off for years.  He said the foul smells for the most part came in hours when the restaurant was closed, which on most nights is 9 p.m.  He said patrons wouldn’t stick around if it smelled as bad during hours of operation as it did at other times.


Holmes said that there had been on ongoing feud between him and Saunders and, for years, Saunders had been using the Guilford County Health Department to harass him.  He said the feud began after he asked Saunders not to fire off loud guns during peak business times because customers were intimidated.  Even though Saunders was shooting the guns off on his own property, Holmes said, it was near the restaurant and upsetting customers.


“It’s like the Hatfields and the McCoys,” Holmes said of the feud.


Holmes also said the whole reason that he went out to the septic tanks that night was to prevent Saunders from smelling odors.  He said he realized that his broken ice machine had filled the tanks and they were in jeopardy of overflowing.  He said that the third tank, the one he was pumping the water from in the video, was largely clear water that did not smell, and he wanted to pump out some of that water so that the first tank – which did have a lot of refuse in it – would not overflow.  He said that, if that had happened, it really would have caused odors.


Holmes said that he had called the septic tank removal company about 8 p.m. that night to see if they could come out and resolve the problem.  He said they informed him they could come out “first thing in the morning” but could not come out that night.


A septic removal worker who arrived at the scene that morning said that his company had gotten the call from Holmes at about 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. Wednesday night, which suggests that he called them before pumping out the water from the septic tank.


Scott Greene, the director of environmental health for the Guilford County DHHS, said Guilford County had issued an “intent to suspend” notice to the Four Winds Cafe.


Greene said that Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne and a state official from the Division of Waste Management are reviewing the matter.


“It’s an old restaurant so there has been work over the past,” Green said.


The restaurant opened in May 2006 at the site of the former Southeast Truck Stop.


The Four Winds Cafe serves traditional dishes featuring Texas-style barbeque plates, shrimp and grits, sandwiches and wraps, Italian food, and sides such as macaroni and cheese and hush puppies.  On some Tuesday nights, the restaurant holds biker nights.


Greene said that the county’s health department has been out there periodically and called for changes, and he said the restaurant has always complied with those requests.


According to Green, records from a septic tank removal company showed that the restaurant had been complying with septic tank collection requirements in recent months.


In Saunders’ video, Holmes blames the problem on a broken ice machine, which he said, caused water to back up into the septic tanks.


Saunders said he believes the ice machine may very well have broken down, leading to the most recent incident, but he said the odor has persisted for years and a malfunctioning ice machine is no excuse for illegally dumping waste water and causing the neighborhood to stink.






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