Tuesday, February 15, 2000

Police see plenty to laugh at




BY MICHAEL D. CLARK
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A report of gunfire had police rushing through the night to a Cheviot apartment. But officers quickly realized they were too late.

        The shooting victim had suffered wounds to the trunk area, severing limbs.

        The suspect confessed immediately.

        Yes, the intoxicated man admitted, he had gunned down his own Christmas tree.

        “The tree was really wounded,” joked a Cheviot police officer who, under his department's policy, asked not to be identified. “Once we got the situation under control, it was kind of funny.”

        Officers who arrested the man for firing a weapon while intoxicated later had a good laugh. The incident last month illustrates that while police work is often dangerous and sometimes deadly, it does, on occasion, amuse.

        The line between a criminal act and a silly one can blur, as a recent glance at police blotters from around Greater Cincinnati reveals.

        • Middletown police reported that an officer was sent to an apparent family dispute, only to discover the yelling stemmed from an inter-species argument.

        The officer was told that the husband's vehement shouts weren't directed at his wife, but at a stubborn canine who apparently wasn't interested in taking a walk.

        The officer advised the man to use a more civil tone when conversing with his dog.

        • In Carlisle, police said, a man reported that his ex-girlfriend surprised him by showing up at his door. She refused to leave until he returned a dish of hers. When he opened the door to do so, she punched him in the nose.

        • A Deerfield Township man suffered a pre-Christmas shock when he looked out on his lawn and saw that his reindeer statues had been dismembered overnight. The Christmas Grinches stole only the reindeer torsos, leaving behind the legs.

        • Toilet-papering homes — along with eggings and mailbox bashing — are traditional prankster favorites, especially in the suburbs and rural areas. Removing the paper strands from trees is laborious.

        But a Middletown man recently tried to take a shortcut by setting the paper on fire in an attempt to burn the long sheets out of his tree. The paper disappeared in flames just as he planned — but, unfortunately, so did his tree.

        • In Middletown, a man let his pants down and then lost them. The man reported he invited a woman to his home and then declined to have sex with her. The woman then stole a pair of his pants, he told police.

        • Employees at Fairfield's Jungle Jim's grocery are used to surprises at the colorful and offbeat market, which sports large statues of wild animals at its entrance. But one morning, they were shocked to find that a giant blue elephant, which doubles as a 10-foot-tall water fountain, was missing.

        Also stolen in the night were two 50-pound snail statues.

        “It took some coordination and a truck,” Sarah Baumann, spokeswoman for the grocer, said of the theft.

        All the statues were found later that day on the lawn at nearby Fairfield High School — the result of a senior prank.

        Though many more suspects were involved, Fairfield police could find only three to charge. Those charges were dropped at the request of Jim Bonaminio, founder and owner of Jungle Jim's.

        “There was no damage done. They were kids just being kids,” said Ms. Baumann.

        In recent weeks, police in Butler County localities have been called out for a runaway ostrich and a stolen ferret. But they agree that pranksters are a growing problem in the booming suburbs north of Cincinnati.

        Middletown police on Monday (2/14) reported cracking a case of egg vandalism. Shortly after two young men bought 41 dozen eggs from two grocery stores, police began receiving reports of cars being “egged.”

        By Monday, police had two suspects, ages 21 and 19. They were arrested and charged with 34 counts each of criminal damaging and one count of assault.

        Veteran officers say that the perpetrators of such vandalism are almost always teen-age boys or young adult males. There is a timeless quality to such minor-league criminality, but more young people means more mischief.

        “There's always been these types of pranks out here,” said Capt. Gary Miller of the Warren County Sheriff's Department.

        Capt. Miller said only drag racing, once a common teen activity in rural and suburban areas, has faded in popularity. He suspects it is because computer-laden cars are not as easy to tinker with as autos in the past, and teen-age boys have lost interest in souping up their cars to race.

        Police Capt. John Bruce of Butler County's Union Township said suburban neighborhoods have become more prone to criminal pranks because many of the young families there have children in their teen years.

        Ed Petrey, a lieutenant with the Warren County Sheriff's Department, thinks such crimes stem more from the expanse of nature and the relatively low number of police patrols in rural and suburban areas.

        “It has more to do with the number of officers on the streets. In the city of Cincinnati, you are always running into officers. But Warren County alone covers 408 square miles,” Lt. Petrey said.

        Capt. Miller said that while pranks may appear harmless, they in fact keep officers from more important duties such as patrolling communities or controlling traffic.

        “Even though some of these incidents appear to be trivial, not only do they take our time investigating but also the victim's time,” he said.

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