Never know what's next

By John Ford Sr. | Jun 02, 2010

The most interesting aspect of my job was never knowing from one minute to the next what to expect. A perfect example occurred the evening of April 26, 1982.

With my trusty companion Scott Sienkiewicz riding alongside, we planned on an all-nighter at the Bither Brook smelt run in Troy. The smelts were running later than normal that year, and the brook was black with fish cramming the small stream, laying their eggs in the annual spring smelt run.

There had been several changes in regulations for fishermen seeking a mess of these tasty little critters. A large portion of the stream, once open to all fishing, was now closed and stricter possession limits were in place.

The department wanted to make sure the smelts were not being over-harvested and wanted to maintain a food supply for the game fish in the lake.

As Scott and I headed to the smelt brook, we overheard a highly excited Pittsfield ambulance attendant calling for assistance on the statewide radio. It was obvious from the tone of his voice that he was desperate for someone to respond.

Apparently his location prevented radio contact back to the base. I quickly responded, inquiring if I could be of assistance.

“Yes you can, please notify the state police we are off at the scene of what appears to be a homicide in the town of Detroit. See if they can have someone start our way," he pleaded. "We can't get in touch with our base.”

Detroit was a short distance from our location. We advised the Maine State Police of the situation and were instructed to expedite to the scene and secure it as best we could until MSP units could arrive. We were also advised to provide them with as much information as we could.

What began as a normal night of routine patrol in the peace and quiet alongside a little smelt brook had suddenly turned into a situation quite out of the realm of fish and wildlife patrol.

Within minutes, we found ourselves at a small country farmhouse on a dead-end road on the outskirts of Detroit. We were greeted by a rather excited rescue squad and a very excited young man named Steve. I was acquainted with Steve, as I had previously dealt with him.

Oct. 10, 1975, Warden Doug Miner, Gary Parsons and myself chased Steve through a Burnham field in the middle of the night after witnessing him drag a dead deer in the bright fall moonlight — a deer that was illegally shot a few minutes prior.

Steve bounded like a fleeing rabbit across the field in the pitch of night, ignoring our demands to submit to arrest for the night-hunting violation. The three of us were hot on his trail.

Steve dodged and darted like a scared squirrel as he scrambled through the darkness to what he hoped would be his path to freedom. A flashlight toss struck him in the shoulder blades and knocked him to the ground like a fragile pretzel. At that point, we fell on top of him and took him into custody.

Martin, Steve's partner in crime, was cruising the road waiting to pick him up. When he saw the commotion in the field, he quickly scrambled away. Although we could never prove Marty's direct involvement in the fiasco, he was the person who quickly arrived at the Waldo County Jail to post bail for his partner in crime.

Once bail was posted, Martin made several threatening remarks to the bailiff that on the way home he'd take care of the $%^#$-damned game warden who had arrested his buddy. “I know where he lives, and he's going to get his,” he angrily grumbled to the bailiff.

A heads-up call from the sheriff's office at 3 a.m. alerted me to be on guard for this irate individual. “They are en route to your Burnham home to settle the score before heading back to the Pittsfield area. Do you want us to start someone that way?” the deputy inquired.

“No, I doubt they show up,” I said, as I crawled back into bed.

At 4 a.m., a car with two men pulled up to the end of my driveway, where they sat looking the place over, loudly revving the engine like they were about to do something drastic. Little did they know that I was perched inside with my rifle in the ready position to defend myself, if the need arose.

It wasn't the first time the warden's camp had been under attack. The family of Warden Lowell Thomas, who lived in the same state quarters prior to my arrival on the force, experienced a night of terror there.

A group of night hunters he'd captured a few nights earlier were suspected of pulling up in front of the place in the wee morning hours, firing shots in the air and breaking all of the windows. Lowell's wife and young child huddled together on the floor, fearing for their lives, while glass flew all around them.

Lowell, who was working, was unable to protect them from the terrifying siege. Fortunately, his family members were not injured, but they were severely shaken up from this cowardly act of vandalism by a group of ruthless thugs — thugs who never were held responsible for their crimes.

Soon after, I arrived to take Lowell's place in the Burnham District, and Lowell assumed duties in a new district to the south.

So, as the vehicle idled at the end of my driveway, I expected some of the same treatment. But, fortunately, they thought better of it and simply drove away, leaving a long patch of rubber out on the narrow country road.

Fast-forward seven years. As I pulled into the scene of this supposed homicide, I was greeted by the same Steve. Unlike the last time, this time he appeared to be quite happy to see me. Before, he never spoke a word on the way to jail; this time I couldn't get him to shut up.

“I shot and killed Marty, John! I killed him,“ he excitedly sputtered.

After I read and carefully explained his Miranda rights, Steve anxiously related that he and Marty had a serious disagreement. Apparently it was one of many as of late.

The heated argument led to Marty chasing Steve into the bedroom with a large sword in his hands, threatening to do him bodily harm. In self-defense, Steve grabbed a loaded shotgun leaning up against the wall and fired one shot, fatally striking his partner in the chest.

Gary, a close friend of the duo who had a shady past, was sitting at the kitchen table and witnessed the entire event. After the shooting, he high-tailed it across a nearby field thinking he might be next. Once the smoke had cleared, Gary returned to the scene at about the same time we arrived.

As we stood in the driveway awaiting the arrival of Maine State Police investigators, Steve and Gary both anxiously tried to explain what had gone down inside the rural country farmhouse.

Homicide being a bit out of my jurisdiction, I quickly placed Steve in my cruiser, while we waited for the detectives. The rescue team stood by the front door, preserving the scene. Inside the farmhouse, the deceased Marty was sprawled on the kitchen floor with a large sword still firmly clutched in his hands.

In what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was a short period of time, my pal, Detective Reitchel arrived. Next came the homicide investigators, who took over the investigation, as they should.

Which brings me back to my original point — when I left home that evening I planned to spend a peaceful night on the banks of Bither Brook working the smelt run. But, as so often happens in this line of work, in the spur of the moment our plans changed. The unexpected had occurred.

Another tragic memory was recorded in the journals, and the violence that had been so rare for our rural area had reared its ugly head.

Steve was eventually tried for manslaughter. He was quickly found not guilty by a jury in Somerset County Superior Court. The jurors were convinced he had acted in self-defense against the aggression of his partner, Marty.

Personally, I liked the idea of chasing night hunters and poachers much better. The violent activities and crimes were better handled by professionals skilled in that field. And as far as I was concerned, they could have it.

Give me a light flashing in the back of a field in the middle of the night and a night hunter on the run and I was quite happy doing my own thing.

Homicide investigations would not be my forte, of that I was sure.

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