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Lodge still a target

July 03, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

Vandalism has continued against The Mountain Lake Lodge since the June 19 fire that destroyed the local landmark, and local residents and police are concerned that the crimes could continue if an arrest is not made soon.

The comments came during a community meeting held Wednesday night on the lodge property to discuss the fire investigation.

Since the fire, a Mountain Lake Lodge sign at the entrance to Upper Clubhouse Drive has disappeared and Mountain Lake Realty signs have been taken from properties for sale in the Shannondale area and thrown into wooded areas, said Jami Kempf, a friend of lodge owner Elizabeth Houghton.

Mountain Lake Realty is a business operated by Houghton's aunt.

Shannondale-area residents who packed into a bathhouse next to the site of the burned-down lodge for Wednesday's meeting said there have been many such crimes in the Blue Ridge Mountain community over the years, and they pressed Jefferson County Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober and Assistant State Fire Marshal Ed Robinson to bring in more federal law enforcement officers to help investigate the crimes.

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"We don't know this is all there is. If we don't put this to justice quickly, we may have more crimes to solve," said James K. Ruland, a former Jefferson County Commissioner.

"This is not stopping. They are not satisfied even with burning down the lodge," Houghton said.

Boober said he was concerned the crimes could "grow, grow and grow," but he promised the crowd his investigation into the fire would not end.

Boober said someone in the community knows who is responsible for the fire that destroyed the Adirondack-style lodge, and he said he hopes a total of $12,500 in rewards being offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case will help solve the case.

"I pray this works," Boober said.

Robinson echoed Boober's determination to solve the case.

"We will get them," Robinson said.

Although there are no suspects in the case, Boober said there are "persons of interest" being looked at in the probe. Boober said the list of people is "three pages long."

Losses were estimated at $2 million when the lodge, an impressive structure constructed of pine beams, burned in the early morning of June 19. The building, which housed a restaurant, pub, clothing shop and fly fishing shop, recently had been renovated and Houghton has said she wanted to do more work on the lodge, such as expanding overnight accommodations.

If someone is arrested in the fire, Boober said he would like them to be charged under federal statutes.

Investigators have been trying to determine whether the fire was a hate crime, and residents at Wednesday's meeting wanted the FBI to be brought into the case.

Robinson said the FBI was contacted, but officials with the agency said they were stretched too thin to take on the case.

Before the fire, there had been other acts of vandalism against the lodge.

The meeting discussion led into other areas, such as the level of law enforcement protection in the county.

After being questioned by residents about the number of deputies patrolling the county, Boober said there usually are three deputies on patrol, but sometimes the number drops to one.

"We don't have enough officers. No one cares about what goes on out here," Shannondale resident Ann Beser said.

Boober said the Shannondale area will be patrolled and he gave out his department's e-mail address (jcsheriff@citlink.net), so anyone with information could contact authorities.

People also can provide information to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives by calling 1-800-233-FIRE.

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