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Hancock proposed ordinance would target paintballing vandals

January 28, 2000|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

HANCOCK - Bob McCusker was heartbroken when he saw the damage to the war memorial under construction at Widmeyer Park in the Town of Hancock on New Year's Day.

Bright pink paint was splattered over the bronze form and listing of the names of veterans who served - as McCusker did - in World War II.

"I didn't think we had boys and girls who would do that," he said.

McCusker, who is commander of the Hancock Veterans of Foreign Wars, worked with its members to raise the $150,000 to build the monument.

Acting on a tip on Jan. 2, Hancock Police Chief Donald Gossage pulled over Jason Allen McConnell as he was driving in town. Gossage said he saw a paintball gun and a container of pink pellets on the seat of McConnell's car.

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McConnell and Dustin William Stepanik, both 18 and of Warfordsburg, Pa., were charged with two counts each of malicious destruction of property, according to Hancock police. A juvenile, also from Pennsylvania, may also be charged.

Gossage said he wants to deter people from using paintball guns for vandalism and is promoting an ordinance making it illegal to transport a loaded paintball gun in town limits. It would still be legal to possess a loaded paintball gun on one's property.

When transported, the paint and gun would have to be carried in separate, locked containers under the proposed ordinance.

The offense is punishable by a $100 fine, up to 60 days in jail or both. Gossage said town police officers would use their discretion in citing offenders.

Hancock Town Council has had a first reading of the ordinance and will hold public hearings at its February and March meetings, said Mayor Daniel Murphy. If passed it could go into effect in late March, he said.

Murphy said he supports the law.

"It's a safety issue and a vandalism issue," he said.

No laws against paintball guns exist in Hagerstown, according to Hagerstown City Police. Deputies with the Washington County Sheriff's Department said they were not aware of such laws in any other towns in the county.

It's unlikely those caught violating Hancock's paintball ordinance will do time, but the penalty needs to be available for judges to impose a jail sentence on repeat offenders and those who fail to appear in court or don't pay the fine, Gossage said.

Paintball gun crimes are increasing because the guns have become more affordable, Gossage said. They can sell for about $60, he said. The guns are easy to operate and use plastic pellets containing water-based paint, he said.

The water-soluble paint pellets may not stain clothing, but they pose a danger of physical harm because they are projectiles, Gossage said.

"If it hits you in a vital area it could cause extreme pain," he said.

The pink paint on the Widmeyer Park war memorial was removed and will not affect the memorial's scheduled completion date of May 30.

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