Ashtabula Co. citizens take judges' advice to heart, help county sheriff's department apprehend violent criminal
By Chad D. Baus
In April, Ashtabula County Common Pleas Judge Alfred Mackey made national headlines after he advised residents to "arm themselves" in the face of severe budget cuts that have reduced the number of sheriff's deputies in the state's largest county by land area from 112 to 49, and parked all but one patrol car.
Last weekend, a group of residents armed themselves and helped the sheriff's department find a wanted man.
From coverage by the local FOX affiliate:
A group of gun-toting residents helped the sheriff's department find a wanted man over the weekend.
"It's pretty intense times here in Ashtabula County," said John Kusar.
Kusar was part of a small group who located Lee Nash, 56, hiding in a camper on Kusar's farm. "I got outta my truck, I loaded my gun, I took my safety off, I walked up to the door and flung the door open with the barrel of my gun and he was laying in there, sleeping with a sawed-off shotgun next to him."
Nash was wanted in connection with at least one break-in, but police say additional charges are pending. "We had the trailer surrounded, he wasn't getting out," said Kusar. "If he did come out with the shotgun, we were gonna need the coroner."
In separate coverage, The Astabula Star-Beacon reported that the precipitating event that sent the men searching for Nash, formerly of Route 46 North, was a breaking-and-entering incident at the home of an elderly Allen Road resident. The female victim reportedly was injured by the intruder and required hospitalization.
The newspaper went on to say that according to the police report, Nash was arrested recently for other burglaries: On July 17, Nash was arrested after people attending a block party in Austinburg Township came home to find him in their garage with stolen property from their residence. On June 21, Nash was arrested for burglary at a Clay Street residence.
Kusar said he and a relative of the elderly victim put together the search party based upon the accumulation of evidence against the homeless man. Nash reportedly was living in the woods along the Western Reserve Greenway Trail, between Lampson and Allen Road. He also was spotted on River Glen Road, and a woman reported being startled by Nash after he jumped out of a ditch along Allen Road, Kusar said.
The men suspected that Nash had stolen a gun during one of the burglaries and prepared themselves for an encounter.
"We armed ourselves because he was armed," Kusar said.
The men took the investigation into their own hands because the Sheriff's Department lacks the manpower to do investigations, because of budget cuts.
"It's a damned shame the Ashtabula County commissioners will fund the Geneva State Lodge and not fund the sheriff," Kusar said.
The newspaper goes on to say that the deputies arrived about 10 minutes after the Sheriff's Department was alerted to the situation, and that according to the Sheriff's Department report, Nash went for his weapon when the deputy awoke him.
"I commend the people that did what they had to do and I'm thankful that they called us," Sheriff William Johnson told FOX. He went on to say he doesn't recommend this kind of community response, but he does understand why it happened. Ashtabula County is the largest, geographically, in Ohio. But only two sheriff's department cruisers patrol the area, down from five cars before, because of budget cuts.
"I don't think anybody would be wrong by saying we're an accident ready to happen the way things are going and it's not going to be a good outcome," said Sheriff Johnson. The sheriff says he was short more than a million dollars after his budget was slashed by the County Commissioners. They didn't return calls for a comment, but the sheriff is now suing them for more money and claiming they're compromising safety.
"There's gonna be a lot of delays," said Sheriff Johnson. "I just hope the delays don't end up in something very serious happening to somebody."
Nash was arrested and he's now facing felony charges. He will appear in court again on August 10th.
The sheriff's fight for additional funding goes to court in mid-November.