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Thursday, June 3, 2010 01:40 am

Few consequences for four-wheeler vandalism

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Dave Hendrickson surveys damage done to his fields in 2009. Criminal charges against the vandals were immediately dropped by the Sangamon County state’s attorney’s office.

Jo Hendrickson and her husband, Dave, of Hendrickson Farms in Rochester have dealt with both teenagers and adults using their property as a makeshift track for everything from dune-buggies to go-karts to four-wheelers, with one group even lodging their truck into a mudhole, ruining crops and causing damage.

On May 29, two boys and two girls, all 13 years old, drove a four-wheeler and a dune buggy on the edge of their property and were caught. The Sangamon County Sheriff’s Department was called, a report was filed and the minors were arrested. In exchange for dropping the charges, one of the parents paid the Hendricksons for damages and covered the legal costs for the Hendricksons to contact a lawyer. The parent paid the cost for a tow truck to haul the four-wheeler off the property.

Normally, people who are doing this can get away and are rarely caught, but their actions still cause lasting problems.

“Usually, all we find is damage,” Hendrickson said.

Despite the fact that trucks often get stuck in the mud or teenagers are occasionally caught and arrested, people continue to come and tear up fields and crops.

“We’ve been through this five or six times,” Hendrickson said. “This happens every seven to eight months.”

Hendrickson believes that the only way the continued damage can be stopped is prosecuting some of the riders with a criminal suit. However, the Hendricksons have been rebuffed several times when bringing evidence to the Sangamon County state’s attorney’s office, including one memorable instance in February, 2009.

“We personally brought pictures and notes to [State’s Attorney] John Schmidt’s office,” Hendrickson said. “A day later, they called us to say that they had dropped charges and we could file in small claims court.” A call to the state’s attorney’s office seeking comment for this story was not returned.

After taking pictures, doing research and paying legal fees, the money that would be granted in a small claims court is hardly worth the time taken to earn it, Hendrickson said.

Instead, she believes that if the Sangamon County state’s attorney’s office is unwilling or unable to criminally prosecute people who are trespassing and ruining the land, then legislation should be put into effect that would levy heavy fines against those who are caught in the act.

“The only real thing we can push for is legislation,” Hendrickson said.

And she has been doing just that. Hendrickson has been talking to Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, about sponsoring legislation that could fine someone up to $1,000 for entering private property to use a four-wheeler or truck.

Andy Goleman, a Sangamon County Board member, agrees that legislation could be the key to stopping the problem.

“A higher severity of fines would certainly help alleviate the problem,” Goleman said.

Goleman said that although there have been several problems with damage caused by four-wheelers and trucks on his constituents’ property as well as his own, he believes that the damage is mostly a series of isolated incidents and not a rampant problem. He believes that the neighborhood watch that’s already in place does a fair job catching suspicious activities in rural areas.

“I think that the real problem is when the crops are there,” Goleman said. “There’s some real economic damage there.”

Following up on the Hendricksons’ complaints and their inability to have the criminal charges filed against the trespassers, Goleman also spoke to the Sangamon County state’s attorney’s office about the damage done to the property. He thinks that the office had a reason for making the decision they did regarding the case.

Contact Jackson Adams at jadams@illinoistimes.com.

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