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Crime numbers drop in Washington County

April 28, 1999|By MARLO BARNHART

All eight major categories of crime declined in Washington County in 1998 but no one, from the state's lieutenant governor to local law enforcement officials, is resting easy.

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The overall drop in Washington County was 6.4 percent, according to the Maryland Uniform Crime Report released Wednesday.

"We're all trying to put more officers on the streets," said Washington County Sheriff Charles F. Mades. "They are already doing a good job and working hard."

Hagerstown Police Chief Dale Jones said hard work has been the key to his department's results.

"We made 35 percent more arrests in 1998 over the year before and that's making a difference," Jones said.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend touted the statewide drop of 5 percent in violent crime, giving some of the credit to the HotSpot program in which Hagerstown is active.

"Our biggest problems in the city continue to be the high demand for drugs and out-of-state drug dealers," Jones said.

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An increase in reverse stings, in which undercover officers pose as drug dealers, is scaring off customers to some extent, Jones said.

Both Jones and Mades said the highlight in the new statistics is the drop in murders - three in 1998 compared with six in 1997.

- Samuel Lease Wolfe, found bludgeoned to death in his Williamsport home on Feb. 5, 1998. Robert Ray Eckard, 21, of Falling Waters, W.Va., was sentenced to 70 years in prison for the murder.

The motive was believed to be robbery, according to the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

- Clara Elizabeth Miller, 19, was found stabbed to death in the 900 block of South Burhans Boulevard. Her decomposed body was found March 9, 1998.

No arrest has been made in that case but Hagerstown City Police believe her involvement in a 1997 murder may have led to her death.

- Tina Marie Vinzant was shot in the abdomen in the 200 block of North Locust Street on Aug. 5, 1998. John Stephen Weir, 37, of Williamsport, was sentenced to 50 years in prison for her death.

City police characterized Vinzant's death as domestic in nature.

Six homicides were committed in Washington County in 1997 compared with just one in 1996.

Authorities believe drugs played a role in three of those 1997 murders while domestic violence was blamed for one and robbery for two, police said.

- Rapes reported in the county dropped to 26 in 1998 from 31 in 1997, statistics showed.

- Robberies, aggravated assaults, break-ins and car thefts decreased in 1998, although not dramatically.

On the downside, the number of carjackings in the county rose from one in 1997 to four in 1998.

Overall, violent crime decreased by just 1.5 percent in the Western Maryland region, which includes Allegany, Carroll, Frederick, Garrett and Washington counties.

Violent crime for reporting purposes is described as murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

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