Truckin' through 1983 — a year in review

By John Ford Sr. | Jan 06, 2011

Another year had passed with many more memories entered into my warden diaries. The following incidents are highlights of 1983.

In February, there was a nationwide truckers' strike. Unfortunately, the strike included a rash of violence, some of it reaching the remote territories of Maine. The battle was over truckers' fees and other matters between unions and independent haulers.

The independents refused to recognize the union's call for a nationwide strike. Their reluctance resulted in a select group of union thugs attempting to disrupt their efforts. Several truckers were shot at while simply attempting to economically survive and ignoring the union's call to cease their operations. Two of these incidents occurred in Maine. Once in Houlton and once in Solon, gunshots were fired at drivers transporting goods across country.

These barbaric acts of violence resulted in the governor requiring beefed-up patrols of Maine State Police troopers and game wardens to escort these vehicles across the state.

With so many drivers on edge, fearing more violence and ambushes, we wardens joined our state police comrades, following semis along their routes of travel. We made sure they remained safe. Most of the drivers traveled in convoys, constantly covering each other, while chattering back and forth on their CB radios.

Fortunately, the strike ended within a few days and without any additional incidents.

May 1, I received a plaque from the Maine Trappers Association at its annual meeting in recognition for my efforts enforcing the law of the sport. The award was a pleasant and highly unexpected surprise. The mere recognition made the many long hours of pursuing trapping violators well worth the effort.

June provided a couple of moments of personal discontent. I was sent to I-95 to the one-mile stretch of highway located in my patrol area. I despised that area, especially knowing I'd have to drive 40 miles either way in order to get to it.

The first occasion was an early morning call when I was dispatched to recover a small bear cub killed by a car and left in the breakdown lane of the busy highway.

The second occurred when my new cruiser got pummeled by a microburst of hail during a severe thundershower. The ice pellets all but destroyed the cosmetics of the new vehicle.

July provided yet another brief moment of excitement, when I found myself assisting Unity Ambulance crew members desperately attempting to perform CPR on a man experiencing a heart attack in Thorndike. The attendants were short-handed and were in desperate need of assistance. I quickly decided to stick with law enforcement duties rather than playing the role of a medic. Unfortunately, the victim succumbed to the catastrophe, but it wasn't due to a lack of effort.

The late afternoon of Aug. 29, we searched for three young children lost in Jackson. After several hours scouring the area, the three youngsters were located in the thick woods, far away from their home. The eldest of the group, who was only 8, was quick to comment, “We weren't really lost, we were just a little screwed up, that's all.”

Fortunately, the experience ended well. If nothing else, they managed to stay together during the ordeal and hadn't panicked, a rarity for kids of that age.

Sept. 2,1983, accompanied by Deputy Scott Sienkiewicz and assisted by Maine State Police Trooper Mark Nickerson and Waldo County Deputy Gary Boynton, we corralled a marijuana horticulturist as he stood in the middle of his marijuana plot.

This individual, who had a previous conviction for drug trafficking, was armed with a large machete in his hand and a 9-mm pistol tucked in the back of his pants.

His well-manicured plants formed one of the summer's largest harvests in the area. The marijuana business was the latest phase of law enforcement issues that we wardens suddenly found ourselves confronting. The remote woodlands, streams and grown-up fields were being used for the illegal growing activity, which, prior to then, was seldom heard of in our area.

Sept. 9-11, myself and Warden Pilot Jim Welch, were assigned to work with the FBI, as agents searched for members of the United Freedom Front thought to be heading for Maine after the slaying of New Jersey State Trooper Philip Lamonaco.

The UFF was a group of radicals linked to bombings of military facilities, weapons manufacturers, offices of South Africa's apartheid governments, and major corporations, including IBM.

One of the members of this group was Maine native, Raymond “Luc” Levasseur. Ironically, Levasseur was a fellow schoolmate at Sanford High School who graduated a year ahead of your's truly.

In 1977, Levasseur and his group were placed on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List. In May 1976, Levasseur had been linked to the bombing of Central Maine Power Company headquarters, in addition to being involved in several other crimes, including bank robberies across the country.

The FBI received information that Thomas Manning and other members of the radical group might be heading to a relative's residence Plymouth. Manning and Richard Williams were prime suspects in the Dec, 21,1981 killing of Trooper Lamonaco during a traffic stop along I-80 in New Jersey.

We were assigned to provide aerial surveillance of any individuals coming and going from the small farmhouse in Plymouth. The folks residing at the residence were supposedly relatives of Mr. Manning. Each time someone left the residence, FBI agents tailed them until we took over surveillance from the air.

To say this effort was a total farce would be putting it mildly. It was quite obvious, as we watched from high overhead, that anyone but a damn fool would know they were being tailed by these supposedly expert government agents. But then, who were we to question their efforts? Supposedly, they were the skilled experts and we were simply a small part of the equation.

But, if nothing else for Pilot Welch and myself, it was an interesting detail. We certainly made quite a few take-offs and landings from the shores of Unity Pond. This unusual assignment was a great break for a few days from the normal fish and game patrol.

Just for the record, in 1984, Ray Lavasseur and his gang were captured in Cleveland, Ohio. The group, dubbed "The Ohio Seven” by the Feds, were found in a remote area far away from Plymouth.

Mr. Levasseur has duly served his time in federal prison; he currently resides in Waldo County. Our paths have never crossed, and I expect they probably never will. One thing for sure, since our Sanford High School days, circumstances and age have certainly changed us both.

November 1983 began with one of the worst incidents ever to be recorded in the diaries. In the early morning hours of Nov. 8, I was dispatched to a fatal hunting accident in Knox. This was a tragedy for the victim and his family and for the teenage shooter and his family.

All of them were respectable community members and all the survivors were forced to live with this tragedy for the rest of their lives. Folks whose lives were forever shattered in a matter of seconds by an errant rifle shot.

On a personal level, I'd become well acquainted with both families during the few short years I'd been assigned to the area. They were hard-working, respectable folks living in the small community.

Adding to this tragedy was the fact the victim's grandfather was killed nearly 20 years prior to the day in a hunting accident in Jackson.

This fatality put a severe damper on the entire hunting season. To this day, I still find myself reliving the horrors of the moment.

One hunting accident apparently wasn't bad enough. A few days later, a Unity College student was shot through his back with a 12-gauge shotgun by a hunting partner as they dragged a small dead deer out of the woods in Unity.

The victim was carrying the small carcass on his shoulders when his buddy's shotgun accidentally discharged behind him from a distance of fewer than 6 feet. The shotgun slug passed through the young man's back and shattered a few ribs but spared any vital organs.

Miraculously, the victim survived. Other than being a little sore, he was none the worse for his injuries. He was extremely lucky, to say the least.

A few days later, Deputy Sienkiewicz and myself almost witnessed yet another accident. We could have become victims ourselves. We were checking hunting licenses of a father and his young son, prior to them heading off into the woods. Suddenly, the young lad's rifle discharged, spewing dirt and grass all over us.

Fortunately for all of us, the bullet ricocheted in another direction.

Other than requiring a quick check for injuries, and possibly a change of undershorts, Scott and I decided we'd place as much distance between the highly embarrassed dad and his young son. Hopefully, the youngster, who was obviously experiencing his first hunting excursion — and experiencing it with a very disgruntled dad — had learned a lesson.

I could barely wait for that hunting season to end. But, as in every other hunting season, there was a moment or two when something humorous happened.

Nov. 27, we stumbled upon a young hunter in violation of the fish and game rules. Todd was standing along the paved highway, staring into a small patch of woods in front of him. It appeared as though there might have been a deer drive in progress, but I'd never be able to prove it.

The moment Todd observed my cruiser, he frantically started ejecting shells out of his loaded rifle, obviously well aware of the law prohibiting hunting from the highway. It was a little too late, though, as we skidded to halt directly in front of him before he could complete his dastardly deed.

I obtained his hunting license and commenced to issue a court summons for the minor infraction. I noticed the day's date coincided with that of his birthday. Jokingly, I stated, “This is a hell of a birthday present, huh, Todd?”

“Sheepishly, he stated, “Yeah, happy birthday to me!” And we shared a brief laugh.

The next day while cruising the same area, a sign was posted high on the telephone pole where Todd had stood the day before.

The cardboard sign simply read, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY TODD,” and my name was written beneath it.

Apparently, someone had a sense of humor and decided to play a little joke on Todd. The sign remained on the pole for several days after hunting season concluded. I'm sure it took Todd a long time, if he ever has, to live down his slight misfortune with the local game warden – but at least someone had a sense of humor.

I assumed the culprits were members of his own hunting party. Perhaps it was someone quite happy that Todd had received a ticket, rather than himself.

The 12 months of 1983 finally ended. A new season was about to begin. Like so many years before, the memories in the diaries were mounting. Life was good for this woods cop. I was in an area I enjoyed and around people I enjoyed dealing with.

It seemed like yesterday when I arrived as a baby game warden. But by 1983, I was in the later stages of my warden career. A great career with a pile of diaries filled with pleasant memories.

Here's hoping your new year will be filled with many pleasant memories. From the Ford household to yours, Happy New Year!

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.