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Troopers increasing Panton patrols after flood of reports

PANTON — Vermont State Police plan extra patrols on Panton roads near Lake Champlain after a rash of suspicious incidents in June has left area residents on edge.
VSP troopers Andrew Leise and Keri Starr also sat down with homeowners on June 25 to hear their concerns and make recommendations about how they could protect themselves and their properties.
One homeowner — who was awoken one night when what VSP described as “a dark colored truck with a yellow light on top and a wood frame” came up her driveway — also met with Panton selectmen last week to see if town officials can do more.
In all, VSP report seven complaints between June 1 and 27, including three attempted burglaries, two to the same home; two reports of the same suspicious truck, which turned out to have a revoked or suspended license plate that could not be traced; an incident at the Vergennes-Panton Water District plant in which three padlocks were cut, but nothing was taken; and the theft of a mailbox. All are near Lake Champlain, primarily on Lake Street or Arnold Bay Road.
Selectman John Viskup said he can’t recall “this kind of suspicious activity” in the rural town at any time in the past.
“We always have mailbox vandalism, that’s very common,” Viskup said. “I’m not aware of (this type of crime) happening before. That’s a little disconcerting.”
Viskup said the selectboard’s options are limited to cooperating with VSP and possibly hiring the Addison County Sheriff’s Department for extra patrols, although the board will also meet with Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel.
Leise confirmed in an email that VSP will be keeping an eye on Panton.
“A detail was also organized and added patrols will be taking place in the area,” he wrote.
One recent patrol already paid off. Trooper Tim Hanley saw three teens in a car throw a glass bottle at a mailbox or sign on Lake Street, pursued them to Middlebury, and cited the operator for gross negligent driving of a motor vehicle, attempting to elude police, excessive speed, and driving under the influence of alcohol. 
Leise said VSP are keeping an open mind about what might be behind the outbreak of what is, at least to this point, minor crime in the area.
“I do not want to speculate and say that all the incidents are related or not, but I will say that none of them have rose to the level of property that was actually stolen other than the mailbox being taken. We have no information that any property was taken from anyone’s residence,” he wrote.
At the recent 90-minute meeting with residents, Leise and Starr agreed with homeowners that motion-activated game cameras could be effective tools.
Leise also made several suggestions in his email and at the meeting on how to protect properties, including leaving a light on at night, leaving at least one car parked outside, installing motion-detecting outside lighting, obtaining license plates of suspicious vehicles, and keeping an eye on each others’ homes.
Viskup appreciates the VSP support.
“I think it was pretty nice of … both of them, to come out and meet with them,” Viskup said. “Sometimes a little public awareness helps.”
Selectmen asked Merkel to attend their next meeting, and he has agreed. Merkel’s department has done some work in Panton and other towns that is funded by grants and is intended to benefit a wider area than just the city.
But Merkel said most of what he can do is offer advice to the board, including that it continue to work with VSP and possibly hire the sheriff’s department for additional patrols.
Merkel said he is happy to speak with the city’s neighbor.
“I want to see what their problem is,” he said. “They asked me to come out and I’m going out more to give them some advice.”
 Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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