$300,000 United Way theft in Toledo probed

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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The FBI is investigating a former employee of the United Way of Greater Toledo for allegedly stealing nearly $300,000 in donor funds, officials said yesterday.

“It’s [one] employee who, from my perspective, was breaking the law,” Robert Lucas, the organization’s president, said.

United Way officials would not give the name or many details about the employee who is the focus of the investigation. But law-enforcement officials said the employee, a woman, had access to checks that were coming into the operation.

The irregularities were discovered in February, Mr. Lucas said, when a KeyBank employee noticed that a check made out to the United Way for about $3,000 had been deposited into an individual’s personal bank account.

The bank notified the United Way, which traced the transaction to a clerk in the organization’s financial offices. According to Mr. Lucas, the employee was confronted by superiors and admitted making the false deposit. The employee was fired, he said, but agreed to pay back the money.

But over the next few months, as the bank began an investigation into the accounts, more irregularities began to appear. Bank officials found more misdirected funds, totaling nearly $300,000.

United Way officials notified the Lucas County prosecutor’s office, which asked for a total of the amount taken, according to John Weglian, chief of the office’s special units division.

Earlier this summer, the county prosecutors turned the case over to federal investigators because fraud involving a federally insured financial institution, such as KeyBank, falls under the jurisdiction of federal officials.

Carl Spicocchi, head of the local FBI office, and David Bauer, an assistant U.S. attorney in Toledo, confirmed the investigation. Mr. Bauer said that when the bureau turns over its final report on the findings, his office will make a determination about whether to press charges.

Neither man would estimate when charges could be filed, although Mr. Lucas said he believes the investigation is “just about finished.”

Mr. Weglian said that in the unlikely occurrence that federal prosecutors do not press charges, the county will have the option of doing so.

Mr. Lucas said the suspect had been employed at the United Way for about 18 months and that no other employees are believed to be involved. The missing money has not been located, he added.

United Way officials said they have taken steps to prevent such an apparent theft from occurring again. They hired an outside accounting firm, William Vaughan Co., of Maumee, to analyze the agency’s methods of controlling its funds. The firm made several recommendations, Mr. Lucas said, and all have been adopted.

Mr. Lucas said all the funds stolen will be replaced by a combination of insurance funds and a gift from KeyBank. “Key is working closely with United Way to ensure no United Way funds are lost as a result of the incident,” spokesman Ken Baierl said in a prepared statement.

Neither Mr. Lucas nor KeyBank will release details of how the thefts occurred, in part “to discourage potential copycats,” Mr. Baierl said.

The revelations occur at a particularly vulnerable time for United Way, which will begin its annual fund-raising campaign later this month. Its goal is to raise $15 million.

“We want our donors to know that their money is safe and that we have taken every step necessary to ensure that,” Mr. Lucas said.

Underage drinking drops, but teen drivers still dying; Toledo area looks for better ways to fight alcohol use

By Joshua Benton and Kelly Lecker
Blade Staff Writers

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As a rule, teenagers do not need much of a reason to party.

But on March 22, there was plenty to celebrate. Gary Walbolt was turning 18.

The celebration would turn deadly within hours for Gary and two of his closest friends. The three spent the evening drinking, then got in a car and headed to nearby Delta.

At speeds estimated at 90 mph, their 1991 Pontiac failed to make a curve, slamming into a pole. All three young men died at the scene. One had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal driving limit.

Many local people shook their heads at the horror of three young lives lost and whispered about how they got the alcohol.

But despite occasional tragedies like this one, underage drinking is not a trend on the rise. Today’s teens drink significantly less than their parents’ generation did, and teen drunken-driving deaths in Ohio have dropped more than 65 per cent since the late 1980s.

Last Sunday, Ottawa Hills police arrested 13 teenagers at a home on Brittany Road after an underage drinking party. Police said several were unconscious. But even Ottawa Hills Police Chief Ron Jornd said he believed such parties had become less common in recent years.

“It’s not an out-of-control problem,” he said.

While the numbers have improved, teenage drinking is still the No. 1 cause of death among young people. But those trying to fight the problem are struggling to find new ways to bring the numbers even lower.

Two traditional forces against teen drinking – Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) – have run into major problems.

MADD is seeing some of its chapters close because of a lack of volunteers. And DARE faces criticism from many who say it just does not work.

“A lot of people are looking for something new to try, because they’re frustrated with the options they have now,” said Dr. H. Wesley Perkins, a sociology professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York and the creator of a new way of fighting teen drinking.

Fewer teens drinking

Underage drinking is not new. Several national studies show that fewer students use alcohol now than teens two decades ago did.

According to the federal government’s National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 49.6 per cent of teens age 12 to 17 drank in any given month in 1979. That dropped to 27 per cent in 1991.

In the 1990s, the numbers have leveled out. In 1998, only 19.1 per cent drank.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study limited to high school students shows that about 50 per cent have had a drink in the last month, and 30 per cent have had five or more drinks in one sitting. That is roughly the same number as nine years ago.

“I hate to say it is a constant, but as a student myself in the ’70s it was there,” said Robin Rayfield, principal of Pike-Delta-York High School, where the three Fulton County teens had attended. “It’s a significant problem now, and it probably was back then. Frankly kids, when they’re making choices, might not always be making the right ones.”

The downward trend has been reported for the Toledo area as well.

Dr. Bill Ivoska, director of admissions at Owens Community College, has studied the drinking patterns of Lucas County public and Catholic school students every two years since 1990. Over that time, the percentage of high school seniors who say they had had at least one drink over the previous year has stayed steady at about 80 per cent.

The most recent survey, in 1998, featured an across-the-board drop in teen alcohol use, including a drop from 82.8 per cent to 77.3 per cent among seniors. “That was the first time we saw a significant decline,” Dr. Ivoska said.

The first alcohol education for most young people comes from Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE. Aimed at fifth graders, DARE is a once-a-week, 17-week course taught by uniformed police officers on how to say no to drugs and alcohol.

It has become an enormous phenomenon, used in all 50 states at an estimated cost of more than $700 million a year.

But a growing body of evidence suggests that DARE is ineffective.

Dozens of studies, many of them sponsored by law-enforcement agencies, have shown that students who participated in DARE programs use drugs and alcohol just as much as those who did not. A Justice Department-funded study in 1993 said DARE has “a limited to essentially nonexistent effect” on drug and alcohol use.

In Michigan, state police have decided to stop running DARE programs in favor of a new approach called TEAM, or Teaching, Education, and Mentoring.

The switch stemmed from a 1998 survey in which troopers asked schools what they wanted from a police-education program. Educators wanted more about personal safety, obligations as citizens, and the penalties for certain crimes such as drinking and curfew violations. Unlike DARE, TEAM continues through the 12th grade.

“If you know right from wrong, you’re not going to use drugs” or alcohol, said Dave Verhougstraete, director of public information for the Michigan State Police.

Even though Michigan’s state police have abandoned DARE, most schools in the area still use the program, which in Michigan is now run through Michigan State University. In Ohio, the attorney general gave more than $3 million to law-enforcement agencies for DARE classes for the current school year.

Since Michigan State Police troopers stopped teaching DARE classes, the Madison School District outside Adrian pays a city police officer to continue the course.

“We think enough of it to pay for it ourselves,” superintendent Jim Hartley said. “As long as we have someone who is an effective teacher we will continue to have DARE. I could see if you had someone who couldn’t relate to the kids how it might not work.”

And other law-enforcement personnel say that the dozens of studies are just incorrect. “We will never give up on a good program, no matter what a few people would say,” said Chief Jornd of Ottawa Hills. “DARE has been and will continue to be the front line defense on juvenile drinking.”

Others agreed that DARE needs the support of other programs and efforts.

“You can’t teach a fifth grader certain skills and then not do anything after that and then expect them to use those skills years later,” said Jay Salvage, executive director of Lucas County’s Alcohol & Drug Addiction Services Board. “In sixth grade, those kids are pretty adamant about saying ‘no.’ But that wears off over time.”

Holding adults responsible

With DARE’s effectiveness on its own in question, area authorities are looking at other ways to combat teenage drinking.

Some police agencies and courts are holding adults more responsible in underage drinking incidents. The Ohio Highway Patrol is still investigating the Fulton County accident.

In Lenawee County, two parents were caught letting teens drink on their property. The couple said they thought it would be safer if the youths stayed in one place when they drank.

District Court Judge James Sheridan disagreed. He said there was no safe or legal drinking by teenagers and ordered the parents to write a letter detailing what they did and why it was wrong. That letter will be distributed to Onsted high school students for the next two years.

“Parents don’t think about these things. When they end up in my courtroom, suddenly it doesn’t seem like such a swell idea and certainly not as much fun as everyone was insisting it was going to be,” the judge said.

It’s illegal in Ohio and Michigan to provide alcohol to minors, even your children.

“You got a party with anywhere from 20 to 100 kids and one or two parents there. Are you seriously telling me that those parents have those kids 100 per cent under control?” he said.

Ottawa Hills has gone further than many other jurisdictions in trying to fight underage drinking. “We’re not running from burglary to street shooting to murder in Ottawa Hills; so we have time to investigate problems like this,” Chief Jornd said.

The village has a mandatory arrest policy for teens caught drinking, and it has established a diversion program to make arrested teens perform community service and go through an education program on alcohol abuse.

Ottawa Hills has a special program that allows parents leaving town to leave their house keys with the police department. The parents sign a form giving police permission to enter their house at any time they believe there might be underage drinking going on inside.

“Parents are able to tell their kids the cops are involved, and then the kids can tell their friends, ‘Hey, we’re pretty apt to get arrested if we do anything,'” Chief Jornd said.

Chief Jornd added that the owner of the Brittany Road home had given the police his keys in the past but had not last week when the 13 arrests were made.

One Ottawa Hills tradition – the senior sleepover in tents in someone’s backyard on the night before the first day of school – came under scrutiny in the mid-1990s as some students began to drink alcohol at the event and show up at school with hangovers the next day.

In 1995, two parents were cited in court for allowing the drinking to happen. Since then, the school board and the village council have passed resolutions asking parents to pledge they will not participate in the sleepovers.

An Ottawa Hills parents group called CHOICES, or Choosing Healthy Options is a Community Effort, was formed several years ago to combat underage drinking. The group helped convince village officials to hire a substance-abuse coordinator to work in Ottawa Hills schools.

“If anyone is going to stop this problem, it has to be the parents,” said Kathryn Royen, the group’s chair.

In the past, CHOICES has tried to educate parents and students on the consequences of drinking, and has even asked village parents to sign a pledge that they support keeping their children alcohol free.

Schools continue to do their part, often including lessons about underage drinking in their health curriculums. Others prevent athletes caught drinking from playing sports.

Many schools try to show students what it would be like to lose their friends to drinking with mock accidents and speakers who have been hurt or lost people to underage drinking and drunk driving.

Schools are bearing more of the task of teaching students lessons of underage drinking as more parents work longer hours, educators said, but it is not likely students will stop drinking from a few hours of instruction in school.

“We have too much responsibility in this,” Mr. Hartley said. “It’s not the issue in homes that it should be. Too many parents are too busy. Alcohol problems happen in every type of family. But they are less likely to happen in a family that knows where the child is and who their friends are.”

MADD losing volunteers

Since its formation in 1980, Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been one of the major forces fighting underage drinking and drunk driving. MADD helps victims of accidents and works to strengthen drinking laws. The national chapter amended its mission statement last year to include the prevention of underage drinking.

But as drunk-driving deaths have dropped, so has the number of MADD volunteers. As a result, some chapters have closed or are near closing.

The problem is not money: Corporate sponsorship of MADD is at an all-time high, said Judy Mead, the executive director of MADD Ohio. But there are not enough volunteers to use that money. Many women are working now and can’t dedicate themselves to the group full time, and other volunteers have left for other causes.

For example, the chapter in Putnam and Allen counties has only five active members, and they have had to carry the burden so long they are thinking of closing down. The group is meeting at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Vaughnsville United Methodist Church in Vaughnsville, O., for one last recruiting effort.

For the first time, in December, the chapter was not able to hold its annual candlelight vigil. Last month, the group canceled an annual banquet to honor police officers who stop drunken drivers. Work that it has done with victims and their families is threatened if the meeting tomorrow is unsuccessful.

“Everyone thinks MADD is there, it’s OK, and they don’t realize there’s a problem,” said Marilyn Miehls, the victim’s advocate for the Allen/Putnam County MADD chapter. “It has been such a good, strong force for all these years, it would be a shame to see it dwindle away.”

In Highland County in southern Ohio, the chapter has struggled with membership, at times coming close to disbanding.

“You get three or four people doing all the work, and it kind of gets overwhelming,” Paulette Hackathorne, the Highland County president, said. “I finally went around to friends and said, ‘You’re not going to have a MADD chapter unless people get involved.'”

If an area doesn’t have enough volunteers to have a full-fledged MADD chapter, it can have a community-action team instead. Community-action teams have their budgeting and the majority of their paperwork done by MADD’s state office.

Defiance and Williams counties started a MADD chapter in 1992, but they changed to a community-action team five years later.

Toledo’s MADD chapter disbanded in 1995 after feuding with the national headquarters over the spending of money on equipment. In 1998, Marcia Owens and Debbie Holmes started a community-action team.

Nationally, leaders said the key might be to recognize the need to involve entire families in the work.

The group has plans for a new elementary-school curriculum for first through fifth graders on alcohol. But without volunteers, the organization’s entire mission is threatened.

Ms. Holmes, of the Toledo chapter, said that while the group has gotten some able volunteers, some others are reluctant to join the cause.

“It’s sad because it’s such an important message,” she said. “You would think more people would get involved because it is drinking and driving.”

Teaching ‘social norming’

Perhaps the most promising new idea in fighting underage drinking comes from a small school in upstate New York and has its roots in sociological and psychological theory.

The central fact behind the idea, called social norming, is that young people, no matter their age, have a big misconception: They think that their peers are doing much worse things than they actually are.

And the more common students think drinking and drug use is, the more likely they are to do those things in an attempt to fit in.

“If only 35 per cent of college students are exhibiting high-risk drinking, those same students will think that 70 per cent are,” said Dr. Perkins, who developed the social norms method at tiny Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y.

Dr. Perkins’ idea is simple: if you inform students that most people their age do not snort cocaine, shoot heroin, or get drunk every night, they’ll be more likely to avoid those behaviors.

“It’s a way of getting peer pressure to work for you instead of against you,” Dr. Perkins said.

Anguished media reports stating that underage drinking is a growing problem are part of the problem, he said, creating the perception that high-risk behavior is just part of being young.

“The facts are that alcohol use declines markedly in these age groups, starting in the mid-1980s, and deaths on the highway have come down markedly. Kids aren’t drinking more, and things are certainly not getting worse.”

The centerpiece of a social norms campaign is a coordinated effort to publicize the facts. From putting up posters to holding focus group sessions, counselors attempted to inform students that not drinking was normal.

Eighteen months after instituting the social norms method at Hobart and William Smith, students were surveyed again and asked about their alcohol habits. This time, the number of high-risk drinkers on campus dropped 21 per cent. Negative effects of drinking – from missing class and property damage to unprotected sex – dropped between 30 and 40 per cent.

While those numbers are self-reported, Dr. Perkins said evidence from residential counselors and others who see alcohol-related problems on campus convinces him the drop was real.

Dr. Perkins spends much of his time now speaking at conferences and trying to get other colleges and universities to use his method. Several have, including the University of Arizona and Western Washington University, both of which saw double-digit drops in high-risk drinking in only two years.

In northwest Ohio, Bowling Green State University has adopted a social norms approach and has had success with it.

Dr. Terry Renter, an assistant professor of journalism who has been studying student-drinking habits for eight years, said that over the last two years, high-risk drinking – defined as five or more drinks in a row – has dropped 2.5 per cent at BGSU, at a time when the national numbers have gone up more than 4 per cent.

Dr. Rentner said that the university’s program is about to expand into local high schools. Later this month, she will visit three local high schools – St. Francis de Sales in Toledo, Woodmore in Elmore, and Eastwood near Luckey – where she will implement the social norms program.

More than 20 other schools have expressed interest in the program, she said.

“Letting [high school] seniors know what to expect about college drinking can help an enormous amount in getting them ready,” Dr. Rentner said.

The work schools such as BGSU are doing has not gone unnoticed. Last week, BGSU, Hobart and William Smith, and five other colleges and universities were named model programs in alcohol abuse prevention by the U.S. Department of Education. Each school received a $74,000 grant to further their efforts. Four of the seven schools use the social norms approach.

But some educators, torn by deaths such as the ones in Fulton County, think that teenagers will only get the message about drinking when they are confronted with the damage it can do first hand.

The friends of Gary Walbolt, Jim Sustaita, and Joe Knapp will not soon forget what can come from underage drinking. Gary and Jim’s funerals were held Monday in the high school they had attended.

Gary had been with his friends all day the day he died. His mother, Pam, said she came home from work just in time for a 10-minute birthday visit before Gary darted out the door of his Delta home again to meet Jim.

Gary and Jim had been best friends for years. There was no question they would celebrate this milestone together. Jim’s dad, Wallace, knew that too, when his 18-year-old son said good-bye as he stepped off the porch that night.

“This had been in the works for awhile,” he said.

Friends and family are not sure where the teens spent that evening. Wherever they were, they had been drinking.

Late that night, Gary and Jim made their way to a friend’s house on the edge of nearby Swanton. At some point Joe joined them there. Police would later find that Joe had been drinking too and had a blood alcohol content of 0.31 – more than three times the legal driving limit.

An argument started between one of the young men and a woman who lives at the house, said Marissa Coale, a friend who lives nearby. The woman called 911, but by the time police arrived the teens had already driven off, back toward Delta with Jim behind the wheel.

Within minutes they would all be dead.

Amy Noel, a Bryan resident, was driving on State Rt. 2 toward Delta about 11:30 p.m., when a car came speeding up behind her at close to 100 miles per hour, trying to pass. Ms. Noel pulled over to let the car pass. She told troopers she saw the driver pass two more cars and nearly hit an oncoming vehicle before the car disappeared around a curve west of Swanton.

She thought the car had sped miles ahead, but when Ms. Noel rounded the curve, she saw something the community won’t soon forget. The car was turned over and wrapped around a utility pole. Its roof was crushed to the floor, with the young men trapped inside.

“This could happen somewhere else, and we’d read it in the paper or see it on TV and sit back and say, ‘That is really tragic,'” said Robin Rayfield, principal of Pike-Delta-York High School, which the three boys had attended. “Then we’d think, well, it doesn’t happen here. Well, now it did happen here. And our hearts were broken.”

Blade staff writer Brian Dugger contributed to this report.

Officials won’t have to testify about trucker’s crash charges

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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Lucas County prosecutors will not be forced to testify about why they decided to charge a Toledo truck driver with two counts of involuntary manslaughter for his role in an accident in August that killed a mother and her daughter.

Judge Ruth Ann Franks made that ruling during a hearing in Lucas County Common Pleas Court yesterday.

Attorneys for L. James Kohler, 25, of West Alexis Road, have accused prosecutors of treating their client more harshly than others accused of similar offenses.

Mr. Kohler’s tractor-trailer collided with a minivan driven by Katherine Zakrzewski on Aug. 31 at Manhattan Boulevard and Lagrange Street.

Mrs. Zakrzewski, 42, and her 10-year-old daughter, Calista, were killed in the accident.

On Dec. 14, attorneys for Mr. Kohler asked that the charges be dismissed, citing three similar cases in which prosecutors chose not to file manslaughter charges.

To support their motion, the attorneys subpoenaed three prosecutor’s office employees, asking them to provide information and testify why the charges were not filed in those cases but were against Mr. Kohler. Judge Franks’s ruling quashed those subpoenas.

The larger defense motion seeks dismissal of the charges. Judge Franks said she will rule on that issue this week.

Dean Mandross, criminal division chief of the prosecutor’s office, said requiring prosecutors to testify about their actions could be detrimental to the justice system.

“We have nothing to hide, but it’s just a horrible precedent to allow to be set,” he said.

If the defense motion to dismiss the charges is denied, Mr. Kohler’s trial would begin Jan. 10.

Threat suspect in Sylvania is ‘a good kid’

By Joshua Benton and Mark Reiter
Blade Staff Writers

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An honor student with no previous disciplinary record is facing charges of inducing a panic after he allegedly threatened to blow up Sylvania’s Northview and Southview high schools.

“He’s a good kid who made a bad choice,” said Kevin Gorman, principal of Northview, where N1ch01as A4van1t1s, 18, is a senior. “People don’t want to hear that, but it’s the truth.”

Mr. A4van1t1s, 18, was arraigned yesterday in Sylvania Municipal Court. He was released on a $15,000 bond.

Just two months ago, he had spent a day following a Sylvania Township police officer to learn about careers in law enforcement.

“This is the kind of kid I would want to have for a son,” said Sergeant John Bartko, the officer with whom Mr. A4van1t1s spent the day. “He is the last person I would expect to do this kind of thing.”

In the last 48 hours, the student has had a different kind of contact with local authorities. On Wednesday evening, Sylvania police searched his home, seized his computer, and placed him under arrest.

If convicted of the third-degree felony, he could be sentenced to up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

“His world just collapsed last night at 9:30 p.m.,” Sylvania Chief Gerald Sobb said yesterday.

Mr. A4van1t1s, of 1638 Delmonte Dr., appeared in Sylvania Municipal Court Judge M. Scott Ramey’s court yesterday, wearing a dark green sweatshirt and baggy khaki trousers.

His eyes were puffy. He waived his right to a preliminary hearing, remaining emotionless with his head down throughout the arraignment.

He was there, police said, because he was responsible for the threat that caused both high schools to close yesterday.

The threat – that “the time for REVENGE is near,” “Sylvania NORTHVIEW and SOUTHVIEW will fall,” and “Columbine’s death toll will seem VERY SMALL” – was printed on a web page Mr. A4van1t1s allegedly created on Angelfire, a California-based free web page service.

On Tuesday, Sylvania Superintendent Les Schultz received an anonymous e-mail alerting him to the presence of the web page. After he viewed the page, which said the threat would be carried out yesterday, Mr. Schultz alerted Sylvania police, who began tracking down the creator of the web page.

According to Sylvania Detective Mike Yunker, the first step in track|ing down the source was getting subpoenas through Lucas County prosecutors to obtain records on the source of the information from Angelfire.

Detective Yunker said information from Angelfire linked the page to Mr. A4van1t1s’s local Internet service provider.

Police obtained an another warrant from prosecutors to obtain the phone number of the computer user who posted the message.

Detective Yunker said the phone number to the service provider is registered in Mr. A4van1t1s’s name.

“We were able to track it back to his residence. It was a complicated process of tracking where he had been, and we did it in reverse order,” he said.

In addition, further tracking allowed police to discover that the anonymous e-mail sent to the superintendent had been sent by Mr. A4van1t1s, Chief Sobb said.

Shortly after 9 p.m. Wednesday, Sylvania police arrived at his home, seized his computer, and placed him under arrest.

Yesterday, police squads from Sylvania Township and the city swept through both high schools, searching for explosives. Later, a bomb-sniffing dog was deployed. No explosives or were found.

According to police, Mr. A4van1t1s told them he had posted the website as a prank. He admitted to using the computer in his bedroom to create the web page, police said.

Through his attorney, Wesley Miller, Jr., Mr. A4van1t1s and his parents, Anthony and Cynthia A4van1t1s, refused to comment.

“All I can say is that his family is seriously shocked at what happened,” Mr. Miller said.

He said Mr. A4van1t1s is “a good student,” and “he is not holding up well.”

He said the recent media attention surrounding the Colorado school shooting has encouraged officials to crack down harder on this sort of incident.

“If this type of case would have happened six months ago we would not be standing here talking. We certainly would not have a felony charge.”

Mr. A4van1t1s had been a student at Northview since 1995. He had attended Little Flower School before that. According to the resume he gave Sylvania police, he has worked as a receptionist at Champion Manufacturing in Toledo and in the kitchen of two local golf clubs.

Under “Interests and Activities,” he lists: “I enjoy jogging, bike riding, and rollerblading. Also, I like to play on computers.”

Mr. Gorman described Mr. A4van1t1s as “an `A’ and `B’ student” who had never before been any trouble.

Mr. A4van1t1s attended Sylvania schools even though he lived in Toledo, outside Sylvania’s school district.

Mr. Schultz said the boy had given the school a fake address on Statesville Drive and that the school was investigating whether it would require payment of back tuition.

Mr. Gorman said it had not been decided what sort of disciplinary action would be taken against the student or whether he would be allowed to graduate from high school in June.

“I think the consequences should be severe,” Mr. Gorman said. “He’s made kids feel unsafe about coming to school.”

Chief Sobb said that his department’s investigation is focusing on finding any other students who might have been involved in the threat.

Yesterday, police seized the computer of another Sylvania high school student they believe might have been involved and who agreed to have his home searched. No additional arrests have been made.

The chief said the investigation would likely continue into next week.

Sylvania schools will be taking several steps to improve security at its high schools when they reopen today. Most prominent is the decision to place an armed police officer in each high school, every day for the remainder of the school year.

The cost to the school district will be $7,500, officials said. The district will decide next month whether to keep the officers for future school years.

Also, several doors at both high schools that had previously been left unlocked during school hours will be locked.

Sylvania Township police said Mr. A4van1t1s participated in the township’s job sharing program two months ago.

Under the program, high school seniors shadow officers to get a first-hand look at life on the force.

Sergeant Bartko said the teenager rode along with him in a police cruiser for six hours of an eight-hour shift in late February or early March.

He said they had lunch, and he showed the teenager how to run radar and laser guns to monitor traffic.

Sergeant Bartko said the young man made a very good impression.

“The kid is decent and very clean cut,” he said.

“This is the farthest thing from my mind I would expect from a kid like this. This kid rode next to me. This has got me back on my heels. I am totally beside myself on this one,” Sergeant Bartko said.

Sylvania schools are not the only ones dealing with a bomb threat.

A bomb threat telephoned in to Nathan Hale Elementary School, 1800 Upton Ave., yesterday morning forced the evacuation of 1,000 students and 75 staff while police searched the building. No explosives were found, Assistant Principal Martin Johnson said.

“This environment we’ve got now is just created for these people to come out,” Mr. Johnson said. Notes would be sent home with the children explaining the incident to parents, he said.

And on Wednesday morning at Jones Junior High School, 550 Walbridge Ave. in South Toledo, police found a bomb threat written on the wall of a boys’ bathroom. After the school received a telephone threat saying the bombs would go off at noon, officials evacuated the building on the premise of a fire drill.

The school was searched, and no explosives were found. Students were allowed to return to their classes.

Arrest made in Sylvania threat; Northview senior held in web warning; Schools shut

By Mike Bartell and Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writers

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An 18-year-old student at Sylvania Northview High School was arrested last night and charged with inducing panic after an Internet threat stating Sylvania would suffer the same bloody fate as Littleton, Colo., caused the district’s two high schools to be closed today.

Sylvania Superintendent Les Schultz made the decision yesterday after discovering a web page that threatened revenge-based killings similar to last week’s rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado.

“The time for REVENGE is near,” the web site read. “Sylvania NORTHVIEW and SOUTHVIEW will fall. Sylvania pigs will fry like bacon! … Columbine’s death toll will seem VERY SMALL.”

N1ch01as A4van1t1s, of 1638 Delmonte Dr., a senior at Northview, was arrested on the felony charge about 10:30 p.m. at his home in the Dorr Street-Reynolds Road area in Toledo. The arrest was made about 90 minutes after authorities began searching the home where he lives with his parents, police said.

He was being held last night in the Sylvania city jail pending arraignment today in Sylvania Municipal Court, police said.

Sylvania police Det. Mike Yunker said the search warrant was for computer equipment and explosive devices. Mr. A4van1t1s’s personal computer and some computer-related items, including computer disks and CD Roms, were confiscated.

No explosive devices were found, the detective said.

Mr. A4van1t1s told Detective Yunker that the computer message was merely a prank – and that he did not mean to cause problems for the school system or the community.

But given what happened in Colorado, authorities took the threat seriously.

Lucas County prosecutors issued subpoenas to the Mountain View, Calif.-based Internet service that hosted the threat.

Meanwhile, the FBI’s Toledo office got involved, assisting area authorities with technical assistance and searching for violations of federal law.

“This is very, very serious,” county Prosecutor Julia Bates said prior to the arrest. “We are using all the tools we have. Even if it is not a real threat, it is still inciting to violence and inducement to panic, and if we can find out who is involved, we can and will prosecute.”

Northview and Southview high schools, with a combined enrollment of about 2,500 students, are closed today, and all scheduled events on the campuses are canceled.

The schools are expected to reopen tomorrow, the superintendent said.

A search of the high school buildings is to be conducted today to make sure they are safe.

The three junior highs and seven elementary schools will be in session today, according to the superintendent.

Mr. Schultz said that parents who wish to keep their children home today from any Sylvania school can get an excused absence.

“You just can’t take the risk that this guy is serious,” said Northview Principal Kevin Gorman before the arrest. “We’ll have the police go through the entire building. I’m sure it’s a prank, but student and staff safety comes first.”

The threat was found Tuesday, when three school administrators – Superintendent Schultz, Southview Principal Ron Malone, and Mr. Gorman – received an e-mail alerting them to a web page containing a threat against the schools.

After finding the threat, school officials conferred with local police and the county prosecutor’s office. At about 1 p.m. yesterday, Mr. Schultz made the decision to cancel school.

“The safety and welfare of our students and staff continue to be our main priority at the Sylvania schools,” the school district said in a press release announcing his decision.

Among the events canceled are a dance for senior citizens and several sports matches.

Area authorities have been on high alert for potential copy-cat crimes ever since the April 20 attack on Columbine High, in which students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students, one teacher, and themselves.

Several local school systems have had incidents, including Fremont Ross, Bowling Green, and Fostoria. Officials are never sure whether the threats are legitimate.

Finding out who wrote the threat is a major focus of the investigation.

The page asked: “How many bombs are there? … How many snow days did we have? HMM … could this be a hint?” It includes a derogatory reference to “Dr. Malone.” The principal of Southview High School is Ron Malone.

The page refers to something called the “UNITY group” as the page’s creator, as well as a Star of David, a symbol of Judaism. The Columbine killers were open admirers of Adolph Hitler and some elements of Nazi ideology.

The threatening web site was hosted by Angelfire, a California- based free web page provider. Anyone who wants to create a web page on Angelfire can do so free of charge in under 30 seconds – without giving his or her name, address, or even a valid e-mail address.

As a result, Angelfire, along with similar online services like Tripod and GeoCities, have been repeatedly used to create fraudulent or threatening web pages – including several school bomb threats.

“We’ve had a small spike in these sort of incidents since Colorado happened,” said Angelfire spokeswoman Dorianne Almann.

“There is very little identity verification involved in setting up an account,” said Neil Bibbins, the abuse manager at Angelfire. He said the company was considering changing that policy to make it more difficult to set up a site anonymously.

Angelfire also was in the news earlier this month when someone created a false news story claiming that PairGain, a New Jersey telephone equipment company, was the subject of a takeover attempt. The fake story was posted to an Angelfire web page.

The company’s stock soared more than 30 per cent on the news, but dropped when the fraud was discovered, leaving many investors with heavy losses.

In that case, authorities were able to trace the fake story to an individual computer in New Jersey, even though the perpetrator did not use a real name or e-mail address in creating the web site. A PairGain employee has since been arrested and charged with creating the web site.

Tracing an online threat to the computer it was made on can be quite simple. Each computer on the Internet is assigned an individual Internet Protocol (IP) number, and any activity from that computer can usually be traced using the protocol number.

But tracing a threat to a computer and tracing a threat to a person are very different tasks. If the computer used is a public terminal, at which many people might have access to the Internet, it can be impossible to uncover who made the threat.

Ms. Almann expressed optimism that the Sylvania threat could be traced back to its source. “The guy who created Melissa” – the computer virus that hit thousands of computers last month – “was quite sophisticated, and he got caught. I’m sure this clown wasn’t that sophisticated.”

Ms. Almann said that Angelfire’s privacy policy precludes her from giving out any information about the individual who set up the threatening web page. But she said the company will cooperate fully with authorities.

The threatening web page was available on the Internet Tuesday, but had been taken down by yesterday afternoon. Mr. Bibbins said he could not say the specific time the page was taken down, or whether someone in his office had been alerted by local authorities.

Northview is in the city of Sylvania; Southview is in Sylvania Township.

Stan Borgia, head of the Toledo FBI office, said his office is involved in the investigation.

“We’re working with the [Sylvania] police department … looking for violations of federal law,” he said before the arrest. “We are conducting an investigation and I expect we ultimately will be providing a supporting role in this local investigation.”

Both schools have used up all their calamity days this year, so students will have to make up the missed day in June.

Mr. Gorman said that there had been previous bomb threats in the Sylvania school system, but said that the events in Columbine made him take them more seriously. “With all the publicity this has gotten in the media, there are going to be copycats who thinks it’s glamorous,” he said.

Several Southview students were happy they’ve been granted today off from school because of the threat, and only a few were worried about it.

Freshmen Anne Wiemer and Kelly Riley, both 15, said they were scared.

“We are supposed to have an assembly [tomorrow] and that’s a great place to blow us all up,” young Wiemer said.

“A lot of people are saying that there was a bomb threat at Northview and they are just taking some extra precautions,” said junior Glenn Zebrowski.

None of the students were aware that Southview was the tar- get of the web page threat. The information students were given on why the school is closed today was “pretty vague,”

Chris Vander, a sophomore, said. “They said they can’t tell us why school was being closed, they just said it was a safety reason,” he said. “I don’t think anything is going to happen.”

Students from the high schools went home at 1:15 p.m. yesterday because of a previously scheduled early dismissal. But students were not told about the nature of the threat, causing many students to spread rumors among themselves.

Some said bombs had been found in classrooms; some said bombs had gone off. Some named individual students as possible perpetrators.

Parents of Sylvania students seemed relieved by the superintendent’s decision.

“This is horrible and I’m glad they are taking it seriously,” said Cheryl Jackson, who has two sons, a senior and a junior, at Southview.

The shooting in Littleton has escalated the seriousness of such threats, Mrs. Jackson and her husband Ken Jackson noted. And the looming threat of violence in schools will last a long time, Mr. Jackson said.

“I will always worry about our kids’ safety. This makes it worse,” he said.

Blade staff writers Chase Clements, Tom Jewell, Mike Jones, Al McKay, Ignazio Messina, Ryan E. Smith, and Mark Zaborney contributed to this report.

Lake Twp. eatery sued for bias by out-of-town bowling group

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 19

Twenty-two African-American bowlers from Maryland have filed suit against a Wood County restaurant, charging that the staff discriminated against them when they stopped for dinner during the summer.

The suit, filed yesterday in federal court in Toledo, alleges that they were denied service given to white customers at the Iron Skillet restaurant, which is inside the Petro Stopping Center, a truck stop at 26146 W. Service Rd. in Lake Township.

“I am outraged by the way they treated us,” said Diane Scott, the lead plaintiff in the case. “We were ignored and insulted because of our race.”

The men and women were returning from a bowling tournament in Chicago on the Ohio Turnpike when they stopped at the Iron Skillet on June 7.

Among the allegations in the lawsuit:

* White customers who entered the restaurant after the bowlers were served before the plaintiffs, who had to wait up to an hour for service.

* The bowlers were required to ask repeatedly for tableware and condiments, while they were provided automatically to white patrons.

* Staff members made derogatory comments to the bowlers such as “Everything was fine until you people came in here.”

Curtis Coats, director of marketing for Petro Stopping Centers in El Paso, Tex., said the company is “vigorously denying the charges.” He said Petro has conducted its own internal investigation and concluded the charges are false.

“We plan on actively and aggressively contesting the lawsuit,” he said.

The bowlers are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. The case has been assigned to Judge David Katz.

Death of ex-Toledoan confirmed; Autopsy indicates remain are of woman missing since spring

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 17

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The skeletal remains that were found in a rural North Carolina county Wednesday are definitely those of Peggy Carr, the Toledo native who disappeared in April, the state medical examiner’s office here has determined.

An autopsy yesterday morning made the identification, Bladen County Sheriff Steve Bunn said.

The discovery will help give closure to many of the friends and family members who have been searching for Ms. Carr since her disappearance.

“It’s not the same as seeing her or holding her, but at least we know we found her,” said Penny Carr Britton, Ms. Carr’s mother.

The remains were discovered in a thick, brushy area near a dirt road in Bladen County, about 30 miles northwest of Wilmington, N.C., where Ms. Carr, 32, lived.

She had been last seen running errands on April 22, in preparation for her wedding, which would have been in September. She left a note for her fiance, Charlie Rivenbark, saying: “Be back soon.”

But police believe two men – Bem Kayin Holloway, 21, of Raleigh, N.C., and Curtis Antwan Cobbs, 19, of Whiteville, N.C. – killed her to use her Geo Tracker as a getaway vehicle in a gas station robbery. The two men have been charged with murdering Ms. Carr and a clerk at the gas station they allegedly robbed in Lumberton, N.C.

Mrs. Britton and three other family members went to North Carolina Wednesday night after authorities there said they might have found the body.

Ms. Carr was a Central Catholic graduate who lived in West Toledo, on Claredale Road and Beaufort Avenue, all her life until moving to Wilmington two years ago.

A memorial service will be held in a North Carolina Catholic church tomorrow, and the family likely will return Monday to Ohio.

But the remains won’t return with them. Because of the difficulty performing an autopsy on skeletal remains, Mr. Bunn said, medical examiners have not yet been able to determine a cause of death.

In addition, each bone must be cataloged and photographed individually as part of the murder investigation. Mrs. Britton said the remains, which will be cremated in North Carolina, likely will not be ready for return to Ohio for more than a week.

Mrs. Britton thanked all in the Toledo area who have helped her family in the months of searching. “That’s been our strength, knowing that everyone has adopted Peggy and made her their concern,” she said.

The family plans to mark the spot where Ms. Carr’s remains were found, first with flowers, then a stone.

Troopers run for border in annual pigskin pranks

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 1

They won’t be meeting on just the field tomorrow.

If tradition holds, Ohioans and Michiganders will be meeting under a flagpole on Airport Highway. Or in a parking lot in Monroe, armed with bumper stickers. Or maybe at the state line.

For state troopers in both states, the Ohio State-Michigan football clash has long provided an opportunity to let off a little steam, and to pull a few pranks on their colleagues across the border.

Like the time Michigan state troopers ran a U of M flag up the flagpole at the Toledo post of the Ohio Highway Patrol.

Or the year Ohio troopers crossed the border and slapped Ohio State bumper stick ers on Michigan State Police patrol cars.

Or the time Michigan troopers, in the dead of night, posted a “Go Michigan” sign on the Toledo post’s lawn, then snapped a few photos for evidence.

“People would go across the line and try to have a little fun,” said Trooper Greg Rayot, a Michigan fan who works for the Ohio Highway Patrol.

And you thought Ohio and Michigan hadn’t sent armed men on the hunt across the border since the Toledo War, which gave the Upper Peninsula to the Wolverine state and Toledo to Ohio.

Michigan Trooper Leon Baker played a part in the last major flourish of the border rivalry, in 1996. That year, Michigan shocked the undefeated Buckeyes, 13-9, dashing their national title hopes.

“We went down to the Toledo post with a poster we’d made up,” he remembers. “We ran across their front lawn right under the windows and put it up. Then we took flash pictures of it for evidence, but they saw us.”

Trooper Baker and his partner then went into the post for a few cups of coffee, prisoners of the border war.

“But sometimes you’d get away with it the whole night, and no one would notice until the morning shift came in,” he said.

Trooper Baker recalls the specter of enemy troopers crossing the border, prowling around opponent posts looking for an opening for the annual prank. “Your patrol units would watch out for their patrol units and follow them to see what they were up to,” he said.

Consensus with both sides now is that the tradition has died down after the sign-posting in Toledo.

Part of it was probably caused by the move of the Michigan State Police post from Erie to Monroe, a much longer drive from the Toledo post on Airport Highway. And, according to Trooper Baker, some of the key promoters of the rivalry retired or left their posts.

In any event, no real pranking occurred last year. Troopers on both sides deny plans for tonight, but then, that would be the point.

Troopers have long been half-accused of taking sides on game weekend in another way – pulling over fans of the visiting team heading to the game.

“It probably does happen,” said the Toledo post’s Sgt. Dan Arend, a diehard OSU fan. “Everybody jokes about it. Too bad for the Michigan people coming back from the game,” he said, without much sympathy.

“Oh, they try to get as many Michigan plates as they can,” joked Trooper Greg Rayot, a Michigan fan who works for the Ohio Highway Patrol.

“I try not to stop someone for those reasons,” Trooper Rayot said. “But if they’ve got Ohio State flags flying from their window, then I’ve got to get them.”

Presumably, he was joking.

Actually, those a little higher up the Ohio Highway Patrol chain of command were extremely quick to point out that troopers like Trooper Rayot were, um, joking.

“We treat any kind of special event like a holiday weekend,” said Timothy Hubbell, the staff lieutenant at district headquarters in Findlay. “Traffic will be pretty heavy, so we put extra people out on patrol. But in 17 years of service, I’ve never heard of someone stopping a Michigan car just because they’re from Michigan.”

Lieutenant Hubbell? He’s neutral. Actually, an Iowa Hawkeyes fan, but his preference in teams “is not an official thing.”

6 arrested in drug bust at GM Powertrain plant

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 18

A yearlong investigation into drug dealing at the GM Powertrain plant on Alexis Road culminated in an afternoon drug bust and six arrests yesterday.

Nearly two dozen Toledo police officers converged on the facility at 4 p.m., then went inside with half a dozen drug-sniffing dogs to arrest five workers. A sixth who was on sick leave was arrested at home.

“We have a lot of great people who work at this plant, and we have an obligation to maintain a safe workplace for them,” said Pete Felton, the plant’s personnel director.

Arrested on indictments were Henry Groves, 37, of 940 Buckingham St.; Winston Logan, 44, of 6624 Dorr St.; Matthew Langenderfer, 31, of 4127 Bowen Rd.; Durell Hall, 39, and Jerome Granderson, 39, both of Ypsilanti, Mich., and Rodney Johnson, 35, of Detroit.

The six were booked into the Lucas County jail on charges ranging from felony trafficking in cocaine and other drugs to misdemeanor drug abuse. Jail officials did not know when the men would appear in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

GM officials had begun an internal investigation into allegations of drug sales in October, 1997. The company hired a private security firm, North American Security Solutions, Inc., of Vandalia, O.

One of the security firm’s employees infiltrated the plant, working on an assembly line to learn about alleged trafficking in cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and prescription medications. Thirteen months later, it paid off with arrests.

Three of the men who were arrested had suspected drugs in their possession – one had $1,000 in heroin, and two had marijuana, said Michael P. Spencer, president of the security firm. The two with marijuana were standing at their work stations at the time, he said.

From the investigation’s start, the security firm and GM made sure they involved Toledo police, vice-narcotics Sgt. Bill Wauford said. Whenever drug buys were made, the evidence was turned over to police for analysis.

The plant employs 4,200 hourly workers and 320 salaried personnel in a 1.8-million square foot facility. It has been on Alexis Road since 1956.

Mr. Felton would not say if the investigation uncovered actual drug sales or drug use at the plant, or if the deals simply were struck there. “We’re simply a microcosm of the outside world,” he said. He said the company offers drug and alcohol treatment programs to its employees.

A man who answered the phone at the UAW Local 14 work center inside the plant last night said the union would have no comment on the bust. He refused to identify himself. Mr. Spencer said his company has 26 similar operations going on nationwide.

“Typically, we find a way to get an operative in the plant, so they actually work alongside these employees, and gain their trust and confidence,” he said.

Escapee admitted bank holdups

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 20

Scott Kelly Hansen, the bank robber who escaped from federal custody Friday, had pleaded guilty to a string of bank robberies earlier this year.

On Nov. 4, Hansen pleaded guilty to four heists, including three in northwest Ohio: one in Toledo, one in Findlay, and one in Fostoria.

On Sept. 22, he pleaded guilty to two bank robberies in Rhode Island.

In the six robberies, Hansen escaped with about $11,500, federal officials in Rhode Island said. Each was a “note job,” in which the robber passes a threatening note to a teller demanding money.

Hansen could face up to 20 years on each of those guilty pleas, which could be served concurrently or consecutively.

That decision was to be made Jan. 26 by Judge Ronald Lagueux in U.S. District Court.

The judge might not get the chance.

Hansen walked away from the Adult Correctional Institution in Cranston, R.I., Friday, after he impersonated a U.S. marshal on the phone and presented prison staff with a phony federal court order releasing him.

Hansen, who is from Toledo, could be headed back to this area, where he has family and friends, officials said.

But local and federal authorities said yesterday that they have received no information to indicate he is in Ohio.

“We’re checking all the leads that come through,” said U.S. Marshal John Leyden, who is leading the search in Rhode Island.

Mr. Leyden is the marshal Hansen impersonated in his escape.

Mr. Leyden said more than a dozen people from the FBI, state police, and his office have formed a task force to track down Hansen.

“We’re treating it as if he’s still in Rhode Island until we learn otherwise,” he said. “But we’re working with other states, in case. I would like to think that he’s still in this area.”

Just five hours after his escape, Hansen allegedly robbed a bank in suburban Providence. He was not wearing a disguise and took $7,000, authorities said.

Hansen has been convicted of bank robbery twice, in 1985 and 1990.

He was released from prison early in 1997 for testifying against Toledo lawyer Richard Neller in a high-profile murder case in 1996. At that time, Hansen was entered into the federal witness-protection program.

The FBI released a list of other heists Hansen is suspected of committing, including the robbery of a KeyBank in Toledo on April 6, the holdup of a credit union in Dayton on April 10, and a robbery in Ann Arbor, Mich., on April 24.