Michele Callan, her daughter Ashley, and fiancé Josue Chinchilla, fled from their new home in Toms River on March 10, claiming the house is haunted. / BOB BIELK/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
TOMS RIVER — “The People’s Court” has ruled in the case of the Toms River “haunted house.”
Judge Marilyn Milian of the nationally syndicated television program ordered Thursday that Josue Chinchilla and Michele Callan pay three months in lost rent to their landlord, Dr. Richard Lopez, according to Kerstin Augur, the show’s publicist.
In other words, Lopez gets to keep the couple’s security deposit and is due rent on the three-bedroom ranch for the month of May, as the family still has their furniture and many of their belongings in the home.
Whether the house at the corner of Lowell and Terrace avenues is haunted appears to have been immaterial under the law, Callan said Friday.
Chinchilla and Callan, 37 and 36 respectively, who are engaged to be married, moved into the home March 1 with Callan’s teenage daughter and 6-year-old son.
After the family settled into their new residence, they said they would come home and find their clothes and towels ejected from closets. Doors would creak open and slam closed in unoccupied parts of the house. At night, footsteps could be heard after everyone was in bed, and whispering seemed to fade in and out of thin air, according to the couple.
They also claimed they would hear noises coming through the vents as if something was being dragged through the cellar.
After little more than a week, the family fled the home March 10 and moved to an area motel, where they have been living. Shortly after leaving the house, the couple filed a lawsuit, seeking their money back. Lopez, a 60-year-old dentist, filed a counter suit for $15,000 as he felt the couple had damaged his ability to rent or sell the property.
After hearing the “spooky evidence,” which included audio tapes and testimony, Milian ordered Lopez to spend at least one night in the house himself, Augur said.
The case is scheduled to air at the start of the fall television season in September, according to Augur.
Callan said she believes Lopez knows more about the history of the house than he has revealed. She also said previous tenants have told her the house was haunted when they lived there.
“Dr. Lopez is a heartless human being to allow a family with two children to live this horrific nightmare that he could have prevented by giving us our money back,” Callan said Friday. “How does he lay down and sleep at night?”
“The People’s Court” will cover the remaining cost of the judgment, which amounts to $750, Callan said.
But the family is still out their $2,250 security deposit, for which they had filed the lawsuit in the first place.
David A. Semanchik, the Toms River attorney for Lopez who appeared on “The People’s Court” in place of his client, said he is a spiritual man who believes in ghosts.
But whether ghosts haunt 100 Terrace Ave. is not something for which an objective determination can ever be made, as there would be in a case such as rodent infestation or a leaky roof, he said.
“I agree that these folks truly believe the place is haunted,” Semanchik said. “But that’s not sufficient enough proof under the law. We have contracts and there has to be an objective standard for us to break a contract.”
Semanchik said the judge said no court in the United States has ever recognized the existence of ghosts.
But, he said, if there is a haunting in this case, perhaps it is the tenants themselves who are being haunted as opposed to the property.
“I believe that spirits exist around us in the afterlife,” Semanchik said. “I wish them the best.”