Wednesday, July 17, 2002

County character is back - with a new tank

He's accused of refusing to retreat from car show

By David Eck
Enquirer contributor

        BATAVIA — Trouble seems to follow John Coyne.

        Just months after finishing a 17-year prison sentence for shooting at youths looting his junkyard, the Clermont County eccentric was back in a Clermont courtroom on Tuesday. This time, he's accused of refusing to move his 7-ton British Scorpion tank from a car show Sunday at Frisch's in New Richmond.

[photo] John Coyne sits atop his Scorpion tank.
(Michael E. Keating photos)
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        Mr. Coyne pleaded not guilty in Municipal Court to misdemeanor obstructing official business and criminal trespassing charges.

        “I was doing nothing wrong,” he said. “Other people were not asked to leave. I'm a rugged individualist, and I'm exercising my theoretical constitutional guarantees. One of the those is the right to public access.”

        Mr. Coyne, 59, and Clermont County authorities have a history dating back nearly 30 years. In the mid-1970s, a judge put Mr. Coyne in prison for contempt when he refused to remove a different tank, a Sherman, from his property near New Richmond.

        Other run-ins with the law occurred when Mr. Coyne would drive his Sherman and other military equipment on roads throughout Hamilton and Clermont counties. In 1977, he was accused of defacing public property for placing signs and stickers on the door of the Clermont County courthouse. That charge was later dismissed.

        In 1981, Mr. Coyne shot three youths who were looting at his Boot Hill Auto Graveyard near New Richmond. One died; the others were convicted of juvenile theft. Mr. Coyne was acquitted of murder, but convicted of felonious assault on the wounded survivors. He was sentenced to six to 30 years and began his sentence in 1984. Later, a separate six-month sentence was tacked on for an unsuccessful escape attempt from Marion Correctional Institution.

[photo] Mr. Coyne appears before Clermont County Municipal judge James Shriver
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        “I maintained my innocence at every inquisition,” Mr. Coyne said Tuesday. “The more I maintained my innocence, the more I was punished. Everything I did, I did as proscribed by state law.”

        Mr. Coyne kept authorities busy for years, said former Clermont County Prosecutor George Pattison.

        “There was always, it seemed, a case that was going on ... relating to driving a tank on the road and so forth,” Mr. Pattison recalled. “Some people at the time thought it was quaint and interesting, but eventually it got carried to the point where he was convicted of a serious crime and spent a significant period of time incarcerated.”

        The two survivors of the 1981 shooting could not be located for comment Tuesday.

        Since being released from prison in December, Mr. Coyne has been clearing his overgrown property near New Richmond. And he's been cruising in his newest tank, the Scorpion.

        On three previous occasions, he attended cruise-ins at the New Richmond Frisch's without incident. He drives the tank around New Richmond, and has even taken it through a fast-food restaurant's drive-up window.

        The Scorpion is outfitted with signs like “John Coyne strikes back,” and “How's my driving? 911-GES-TAPO.”

[photo] This sign adorns the back of Mr. Coyne's tank.
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        “America is going down the road toward national socialism, and I am one of the very few individuals who has ever exposed that with the cogent use of parody and satire,” he said at court Tuesday. “I have a chronic dislike of unjust authority.”

        While some neighbors wouldn't discuss Mr. Coyne on Tuesday, others said he is a good neighbor who stands up for what he believes. They don't worry about their children's safety, and the tank doesn't bother them.

        “He likes people to look at his tank,” Ray Appelmann said. “He just takes it out so people can see it. He's not out stomping anybody's car with it.”

        Miranda Kelch, who has known Mr. Coyne for years, also hasn't had any trouble with her neighbor.

        “He's a good guy,” she said. “He really appreciates it when you do something for him. He will go out of his way to help anybody.”

        Still, Mr. Pattison is hoping for a quieter Mr. Coyne.

        “I would hope that all that stuff would be behind him,” Mr. Pattison said. “There was a compulsiveness to it that he kind of seemed to feel that he wanted to be outside the norm and did things to raise eyebrows.”

        Mr. Coyne's next court appearance is scheduled July 31.



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