Residents of a Bethesda neighborhood are still waiting to find out the fate of a house owned by a millionaire stock trader who was convicted of manslaughter after a man died in a basement fire while helping to dig tunnels under the home.
Daniel Beckwitt, now 31, dug the tunnels under his home at 5212 Danbury Road because he worried about a nuclear war with North Korea, according to authorities.
Askia Khafra, 21, of Silver Spring had asked Beckwitt to invest in his smartphone application venture and Beckwitt invested $10,000 in exchange for a 5% stake, according to police. When Khafra’s business failed, Beckwitt hired him to dig the tunnels as a way of repaying the $10,000 debt.
Khafra died Sept. 10, 2017, when a fire broke out in the basement of Beckwitt’s home and he was unable to escape from the tunnels. Firefighters found his charred body later that day.
Beckwitt was initially charged with second-degree depraved heart murder and involuntary manslaughter. He was found guilty of both charges in 2019 and sentenced to nine years in prison. In 2021 the Court of Special Appeals overturned the murder conviction and upheld the manslaughter conviction.
Beckwitt was resentenced this year for the manslaughter conviction and given a five-year sentence, but was released at the end of July due to credit for time already served as well as the calculation of “good time” (reward for good conduct), Robert Bonsib, his criminal defense attorney, told Bethesda Beat on Thursday. Bonsib was not sure where Beckwitt is currently living.
Steve Oram, an attorney who represents Beckwitt’s estate, declined to comment to Bethesda Beat on Thursday.
The house remains boarded up with a fence around it. A few flowers are on the fence. Neighbors on Danbury Road who spoke with Bethesda Beat on Thursday didn’t know what was happening with the property, but said they wanted action.
One couple, who lives a few houses down the street and asked that their names not be used, told Bethesda Beat that police come to the property every six months to one year.
“All we know is that when they let anybody in the house, that’s a big deal. They put no parking signs out front,” the husband said.
The man said police haven’t been back to the property since Beckwitt’s release last month.
“As neighbors, what we’d really like to know is what’s the county gonna do about the house,” he said.
In February 2021, the county issued an order of abatement for Beckwitt’s property – a document laying out a series of steps Beckwitt must take to ensure the property is safe. According to county officials, the tunnels still exist. Tasks included in the abatement order include drawing a detailed map of the tunnels, conducting a video inspection of the tunnels, disposing of any hazardous materials, having an engineer submit a detailed report to the county and ultimately backfilling the tunnels.
It’s unclear how much of the work in the abatement order has been completed. Sonya Burke, a spokeswoman with the county’s Department of Permitting Services, told Bethesda Beat on Thursday that DPS staff has requested an update from the property owner’s attorney about the status of the abatement process. Burke said DPS expects that update from Beckwitt’s attorney later this month.
Allen Myers, the president of the Maplewood Citizens Association, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat on Wednesday that “we have heard nothing and seen nothing.”
“I know that [Beckwitt] wanted to fix up the house because it was the home in which he grew up. But there has been no activity,” Myers wrote.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org