MIDDLEBURY POLICE OFFICER Scott Fisher, left, listens as Vermont State Police Sgt. Lee Hodsden presents the results of his investigation into the Dec. 28 vandalism at the former Robert Frost summer home in Ripton. More than two dozen youths, most with ties to Middlebury Union High School, have been cited in connection with the case.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
January 21, 2008
By JOHN FLOWERS
RIPTON — Vermont State Police on Friday said they are citing into court 28 youths — the vast majority of them Middlebury Union High School students — in connection with an underage drinking party that caused an estimated $10,600 in damage to the former summer home of Robert Frost in Ripton.
The suspects are scheduled to be arraigned in Addison County District Court on Feb. 11 on various misdemeanor charges, including unlawful trespass; unlawful mischief; furnishing alcohol to minors; enabling the consumption of alcohol by minors; contributing to the delinquency of a minor; and underage drinking.
Police said as many as 50 people attended the party at the Homer Noble Farm on Dec. 28. Some partygoers destroyed antique tables, chairs, pictures, dishes, glasses, windows and lighting fixtures; sprayed the contents of two fire extinguishers around the first floor and vomited and urinated inside the building and on the damaged property.
Authorities, who announced the citations during a Friday morning press conference, singled out two individuals in particular: Andrew Ford, 17, of Ripton, a former seasonal kitchen staffer at Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf campus, whom they allege planned the party, picked the site and put up money for alcohol consumed there; and Patrick Deering, 22, of Middlebury, who allegedly bought a large quantity of beer for the young partiers.
VSP Sgt. Lee Hodsden, lead investigator in the case, alleged Ford organized the event as a New Year’s Eve bash and birthday party for his friend, Bryan Parks, 19, of Middlebury. Parks has been cited with unlawful trespass and unlawful mischief in connection with the incident.
“(Ford) invited a lot of kids, and the word spread,” Hodsden said, to the point where 30-50 people — most of them younger than 21 — showed up at the Middlebury College-owner Homer Noble Farm, Frost’s summer abode for 25 years.
Hodsden said his investigation revealed that Ford gave Deering money to buy beer for the party. Deering is alleged to have purchased five racks (30 beers in each) for the event.
“With a large amount of alcohol and some drug use — and those combined with the maturity level of the people there — led to a real mess,” Hodsden said.
A detailed list of damages provided by Middlebury Colleges shows that revelers, among other things, bent a fireplace screen; broke a leg off an antique chair; spilled beer on antique tables; destroyed and burned two chairs; broke a lot of dishware; and ruined some artwork.
Hodsden said the youths had tried unsuccessfully to fire up the furnace in the home. When one of the youths accidentally broke a chair, its pieces were fed into the fireplace for heat, Hodsden said.
Elizabeth Boudah, director of public safety for the college, said new security measures are being considered to protect the Homer Noble Farm. The iconic structure currently serves as faculty housing during Bread Loaf events and is opened “by appointment” on other occasions.
She said the college community is still reeling from the incident.
“A lot of people are very upset, but I think most people feel confident in the investigation that’s been done by state police, expecting that the legal system will do the right thing,” Boudah said. “I’m confident the outcome will be appropriate for those responsible.”
It will be up to the courts to decide what, if any, restitution the culprits will have to pay for damages, Boudah noted.
The police investigation into the matter began slowly, but then snowballed after the first few people came forward.
Hodsden said the first significant break in the case came around a day after the party, when one of the alleged participants claimed his vehicle, which had gotten stuck near the Frost home. Many of the participants had parked at the nearby Robert Frost Interpretive Trail on the other side of Route 125, then carpooled up to the home from there.
Hodsden had the stuck vehicle towed.
“When he called in and I asked him what he was doing in Ripton, he said ‘I was at a party,’ and I said, ‘Well, I have to talk to you,’” Hodsden recounted. “I met with him, and he gave me three names, and those three kids gave me three more names, and it went from there.”
Still more people came forward when the VSP issued a press release on the crime.
“Most of the kids and parents were very good about it,” Hodsden said. “They were very cooperative.”
Only a few of the suspects were what Hodsden described as “indifferent. They thought it was a big joke.”
The suspects provided useful information that ultimately led to 28 people being cited. Only three of those cited are 21 or older; Addison County School Resource Officer Scott Fisher said all but around “four or five” of the suspects have ties to MUHS.
Officials said this was probably the first serious brush with the law for most of the 28 suspects. But they clearly picked a poor target for their first offense, county prosecutors said.
“This has gained national attention, and we are mindful of that,” said Addison County Deputy State’s Attorney Chris Perkett. “We are also mindful that this is an historic building and many of the items can’t be replaced.”
Perkett said state statutes provide for penalties ranging from three months in jail and/or a $500 fine, to a year and/or a $500 fine, for a misdemeanor charge of unlawful trespass — the offense for which all of the suspected are being cited.
Perkett said prosecutors will take a unique look at each suspect, the nature of what they allegedly did, and take into account any past criminal activity.
“This is a serious case,” Perkett said. “No one should think that just because this is a first offense the option of jail is off the table.”
Addison County State’s Attorney John Quinn was unavailable for comment as the Addison Independent went to press of Friday.
MUHS Principal William Lawson said three of the suspects are hockey players who are currently serving team sanctions in wake of the incident. Student athletes at MUHS must sign contracts pledging to abstain from alcohol and drugs. Those who break the contract, on first offense, are ineligible for game action or travel for four weeks or 20 school days. They are still expected to practice and are expected to complete a drug/alcohol education program under the supervision of the school’s prevention specialist.
Because the party did not occur during school hours, other student suspects connected with the crime will not face school sanctions, Lawson said.
Lawson said he believes the incident shows how easy it is for some youths to stray in spite of the best efforts of the school system, and community at large, to encourage safe and positive behavior.
“I believe that in a lot of areas, the high school’s job is to promote pro-social behavior,” Lawson said. “We put a lot of effort into that.”
The following is a list of those who have this far been cited in connection with the incident, with their name, age, residence and charges:
Andrew Ford, 17, Ripton, Unlawful Trespass/Enabling; Patrick Deering, 22, Middlebury, Unlawful Trespass/Furnishing; Bryan M. Parks, 19, Middlebury, Unlawful Trespass/Unlawful Mischief; Benjamin Kinson, 18, Waltham, Unlawful Trespass; Michael Shively, 19, Middlebury, Unlawful Trespass/Unlawful Mischief; Ashley Comes, 17, Middlebury, Unlawful Trespass; Brittany Berno, 17, Middlebury, Unlawful Trespass; Sophie Brewer, 17, Middlebury, Unlawful Trespass; Kyle Hamblin, 16, Middlebury, Unlawful Trespass/Unlawful Mischief; Matt Rizner, 18, North Clarendon, Unlawful Trespass; Jonathan Grohs, 17, Middlebury, Unlawful Trespass; and Nancy Greenwalt, 17, Shoreham, Unlawful Trespass.
And also Zachary Robinson, 17, Middlebury, Unlawful Trespass; Paul Beardsley, 18, Ripton, Unlawful Trespass; Jeremy Mundorf,19, Salisbury, Unlawful Trespass; Jesse Mundorf, 21, Salisbury, Unlawful Trespass; Jackson Downey-Teachout, 17, Cornwall, Unlawful Trespass; Jesse Elithorpe, 17, Middlebury, Unlawful Trespass; Chelsey Lattrell, 17, Bridport, Unlawful Trespass; Dominick Santa-Maria, 17, Addison, Unlawful Trespass; and Duncan Tilford, 17, Middlebury, Unlawful Trespass.
And also Peter Marini, 18, Middlebury, Unlawful Trespass; Ryan Kenyon, 21, Salisbury, Unlawful Trespass; Dylan Cobden, 17, Weybridge, Unlawful Trespass; Eric Berman, 18, Weybridge, Unlawful Trespass/Unlawful Mischief; Jacob McDowell, 17, Cornwall, Unlawful Trespass/Unlawful Mischief; Daniel Fifield, 19, Middlebury, Unlawful Trespass.
The 28th individual will be cited in the near future, VSP officials said. That person has been out of town attending college.