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Arson, vandalism shake up residents



Published: Sun, July 29, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



No arrests have been made in the nine fires last weekend. Deputy sheriffs, however, say they have 'strong suspects.'

By STEPHEN SIFF AND PEGGY SINKOVICH

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WEST FARMINGTON -- Last year, someone cut the brake lines on Traci Kozely's 1990 Cavalier.

Since then, sugar was added to the gas tank of her neighbor's car.

Houses in this town of 519 souls have been vandalized repeatedly, and a road was blockaded with scrap lumber.

No one has claimed a $2,000 reward to catch the person or persons who destroyed a fountain next to the police station in June.

"It's very peaceful, until recently," Kozely said. "This scares the crap out of me."

On the morning of July 21, the town was lighted by nine fires -- all ruled as arsons and all set in a two-hour span. No arrests have been made, though investigators say they have "strong suspects."

"Everyone has a baseball bat by their doors," said Jamie Christlieb, 11, who lives next door to a home where two cars were torched July 21. "They are all afraid."

Doors are locked in West Farmington now, and residents say few venture on the sidewalks after dark.

To many residents, West Farmington seems to be a town lacking in law enforcement.

Part-time officers: Although there is a village police force, an officer is on duty only 20 or 24 hours per week -- "not nearly enough," said Mayor Allen Patchin. These part-time cops serve in exchange for their uniforms, and an answering machine catches several daytime calls to the department.

That leaves the Trumbull County Sheriff's Department, which often takes 45 minutes to answer a 911 call from West Farmington, Patchin said.

"West Farmington is so far out there that it takes us time to respond," said Sheriff Thomas Altiere. "We have three or four cars out on a shift, but we have to cover all of the northern part of Trumbull County. If we are tied up on another call it is going to take us some time to get there."

In the absence of anyone else, village residents often call the mayor, a 58-year-old glass installer. Three or four times per week, Patchin leaves his house, and sometimes his bed, to settle complaints about loud noise, drag racing and property damage.

"Very politely, I tell them if they do it again there will be a report with the police department or sheriff's department," he said.

Sheriff's efforts: Deputies will spend additional time in the community after the arson spree last week, and Altiere said the department is working hard to crack the case.

Investigators say they are frustrated at the apparent reluctance of witnesses to step forward. Despite the fact that the nine fires were in a two-block area, set over the span of two hours, investigators say no one has admitted seeing anything.

"They don't want to get involved, and they are scared and they don't want to be next," Patchin said.

Reward in arsons: The state fire marshal's office is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the arsonists.

"The vandalism is getting very, very aggressive," said Deirdre Bailey, a village council member. She spoke to reporters as workers completed $3,200 worth of repairs to her front porch.

"If we don't catch the vandals and put a stop to it, who knows what they will do next," she said.




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