Friday, December 31, 2010

Squad cars damaged in arson attacks

Police in valley pooling resources to apprehend culprit


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

None of these Hailey Police Department cars has been targeted, but vehicles from the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office and Ketchum Police Department sustained minor damage in attempted arson attacks this week while the vehicles were parked at officers’ homes in Hailey. Photo by David N. Seelig

Police in the Wood River Valley are keeping a closer watch on their squad cars these days after two attempts were made this week to torch police vehicles in Hailey.

Neither attempt was very successful, but both vehicles sustained minor damage and the incidents led to a pooling of police resources in the valley to try to determine who did it.

"We're looking at multiple persons of interest," Hailey Police Chief Jeff Gunter said Thursday. "Nothing concrete yet, but we do have some people we're looking at—we're not saying they're suspects."

The Hailey Police Department is the lead investigative agency since the attempted arsons occurred in its jurisdiction, but all agencies in the valley are assisting in apprehending the person or people responsible.

The first attempt occurred about 8:40 p.m. Monday when someone dumped a petroleum accelerant on a Blaine County Sheriff's Office 2008 Dodge Durango parked at a deputy's home on Aspen Valley Drive in Woodside. The fire was extinguished by neighbors before the Hailey Fire Department arrived. The blaze caused only minor damage to the vehicle's rear bumper and taillight assembly.

Police became more concerned the following evening when about 9 p.m. two Molotov cocktails were thrown at a Ketchum Police Department 2007 Chevrolet Suburban parked at an officer's home on Third Street. One of the bottles broke a window on the side of the vehicle while the other failed to shatter. The fire was quickly extinguished by the officer and the only damage to the vehicle was the broken window.

Investigators gathered the intact Molotov cocktail and glass from the shattered bottle as part of evidence they're collecting in the case.

"The target was another police car, so obviously someone has a vendetta against the police," Gunter said. "We're pooling resources on this. We're working with the county. So far, it's been their cars and not ours but we don't know where this will go."

The Ketchum police vehicle is owned by the city of Ketchum but operated by sheriff's employees because the Sheriff's Office has a contract with the city to provide police services.

Sheriff Walt Femling, who has served in that capacity for 22 years, said this is the most serious attack on police vehicles that he's seen in the valley.

"There's been damage to police cars—we've had slashed tires and broken windows—but as far as an arson, I can't recall ever having anything like two attempts on vehicles," Femling said. "Anyone who knows anything can call the tips line, Hailey police or my office.

"We're all offended by this. Those are expensive vehicles with expensive equipment inside and we're trying to put a stop to this. I know all the departments are concerned."

Femling said police are taking the arson attempts "very seriously" because of the potential for them to escalate into something worse.

The sheriff said he's not at this time reconsidering having his officers park their vehicles at their homes because it lessens the response time when police are called to emergencies.

"They get called out a lot," he said. "They're on call all the time."

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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