Crime fears rise in W.Va.'s Eastern Panhandle

May 09, 1997


Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - When Charelle Segar moved to Charles Town from Hagerstown seven years ago, she felt the town was a safe place to live.

Now she has double locks and chains on the door.

"My kids, after all this stuff, I take them to school and I pick them up," said Segar, 30, who is the mother of two girls, ages 9 and 2, and a boy, 7.

"I don't even let them play in the yard out here. There's too many strange people around here."

Local law enforcement officials say this week's abduction of a 7-year-old girl who told police she had been sexually assaulted should send a message to residents to take crime prevention seriously.


Leonard Austin "Tinker" Ellinger Jr., 32, of 129 Evergreen Drive, Kearneysville, was charged Wednesday with abducting the girl.

At one time, residents in the Eastern Panhandle could leave their doors unlocked at night and feel secure because there was so little crime in the area.

Times have changed, but too many residents still don't lock their front doors and leave the keys in the ignitions of their cars, said Charles Town Police Chief Mike Aldridge.

In the abduction, the girl and her family members were asleep in their house trailer with the door locked but an intruder managed to get inside late Monday or early Tuesday, deputies said.

Even when locked, the trailer door could be forced open if pushed hard enough, said Cpl. John D. Vanorsdale Jr. of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department.

Like many residents, the girl's family did not have a deadbolt lock on the door, a lock that would have made the door more secure, said Capt. Curtis Keller of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department.

Segar said she used to keep her door open. "Now I don't even keep a window open when I'm not here," she said.

Roy Banjoman, 34, of Charles Town, said when he was growing up in Jefferson County his family never locked their doors.

He said he still feels safe, but he keeps his doors locked.

"Times have changed," Banjoman said.

Keller said burglars, if given an opportunity, can find a way in to the most secure building.

The best way to make the area safer is by locking up criminals and keeping them behind bars for longer sentences, Keller said.

"Build more prisons if you have to," he said.

Jefferson County Sheriff William Senseney said he, too, can remember a time when no one locked their doors.

People must realize, however, that the county has changed significantly, he said.

"You'd think that people would see what goes on just by reading the papers in Jefferson County," Senseney said. "But it appears people are reluctant to change the way they do things."

Senseney believes that home security will have to be taught at schools the way seat belt use was taught so that people develop good habits.

Several cars recently were stolen in Charles Town, and in each case the doors were unlocked and the keys were in the ignitions, Aldridge said.

In one case, the mother had left the engine running while she ran her child inside to day care. When she returned, the car was gone.

The Community and Police Partnership in Jefferson County holds monthly meetings to discuss ways of making the county safer, Senseney said.

The partnership is made up of Jefferson County police departments and the FOCUS Coalition.

The next partnership meeting is scheduled for May 22.

Aldridge said he has been planning a public awareness campaign to drive home the message of crime prevention.

He said he plans to speak to service clubs and community organizations.

"I think there's a lot of wishful thinking and they really do want it to be like it was years ago," Aldridge said. "But it may be a long time before we'll see those days again if we ever do."

"The old ways of leaving your door unlocked and your car unlocked is for the birds," Keller said.

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