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Hedgesville students accused in school bus vandalism could face charges

May 02, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

One of four Hedgesville High School students suspended for alleged vandalism to tires on at least 85 buses and two vehicles at the Berkeley County School Transportation Department's bus garage was identified by police Friday as an 18-year-old Falling Waters, W.Va., man.

The remaining three suspects in the vandalism early Wednesday are juveniles, and petitions for their prosecution will be submitted to the Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, First Sgt. E.D. Burnett said in a news release.

The four are accused of deflating 110 bus tires and slashing the left rear tire on a county-owned Plymouth car and a left front tire on a privately owned Ford Expedition early Wednesday, police said. After reviewing surveillance video, police determined the students entered the property at 88 Harlan Springs Road about 3 a.m. after cutting the fence on the south side, police said.

Because of the vehicle's weight, each bus tire was deflated in about 30 seconds after the students removed or partially unscrewed the valve stem cores to let the air escape, a school Transportation Department employee said.

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Several anonymous tips led investigating State Police Trooper D.S. See to Hedgesville High School, where he interviewed the four students Thursday afternoon, Burnett said.

The interviews led the trooper to conclude the students were the "prime offenders" and police said Wednesday that charges of trespassing, destruction of property and motor vehicle tampering could be filed against the students.

Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny P. Arvon II said officials on Friday were assessing costs associated with the incident, which prompted cancellation of classes Wednesday.

"We're looking at direct and indirect costs," Arvon said.

Aside from the tires damaged and the estimated $900 needed repair and reinflate them, Arvon said indirect costs included money spent on lodging and meals by teams of evaluators who had traveled from across the state to visit county schools Wednesday for what became a botched trip.

The school visits have to be rescheduled, Arvon said.

"We're trying to get as accurate numbers as possible," Arvon said.

The students began serving 10-day suspensions Friday and expulsion hearings are expected to be held by the Board of Education within that time frame, school officials have said.

On Thursday afternoon, the father of one of students implicated in the vandalism was arraigned on a charge of domestic battery. Police said the 44-year-old man struck his child in the head twice with his fist while See was interviewing the students about the crime, according to Berkeley County Magistrate Court records.

The altercation happened about 2:30 p.m., and See said the Hedgesville, W.Va., area man admitted to causing a large knot on his child's forehead, and the teenager's head was bleeding, according to complaint filed with the court by Trooper J.M. Walker.

The father was arraigned Thursday by Magistrate Joan V. Bragg, who set a $3,500 personal recognizance bond, according to court records.

The defendant's name is not being published because it could identify the juvenile. Names of juveniles, unless prosecuted as adults in West Virginia, are generally not released to the public and are not published by The Herald-Mail.

In the news release Friday, Burnett thanked members of the community who provided tips via email to the West Virginia State Police tip line and credited the media for their assistance.

"This tip line has been very beneficial to the West Virginia State Police in solving many crimes and identifying many criminals," said Burnett, the District 1 commander. "We urge the public to use this Web site to continue the fight against crime."

The crippling of nearly half of the school district's 192-bus fleet caused Berkeley County public school students to miss an eighth day of classes in the 2007-08 school year.

While generally proud of the student body and the school's recent academic achievements, Hedgesville High School principal Don Dellinger said Thursday that he was extremely disappointed with four "good kids" who made "horrendous choices."

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