Vt. man with grudge against sheriff's department destroys fleet of cruisers in tractor rampage
Roger Pion, 34, used a 20,000-pound farm tractor -- one of the largest available -- to run over and flatten six cars and a van among the Orleans County Sheriff's Department's fleet of 11 vehicles.
Before he could be stopped, Pion did an estimated $300,000 damage, destroying six cruisers and a transport van. He also "slightly damaged" a privately-owned pickup truck, Orleans County Sheriff Kirk Martin said Friday afternoon.
Callers to the department Thursday notified sheriff's personnel what was going on in the parking lot. Two officers ran outside, but with all available vehicles disabled, they were forced to chase the tractor on foot along Route 5 before a motorist picked them up and the pursuit continued, Martin said. Newport City police collared Pion shortly afterward.
"I've never seen anything like it," said Martin who's been sheriff since 2008 and in law enforcement since 1991.
"Neither have two of my officers who both have 20 years in law enforcement," he said.
Derby is a Canadian border town about 50 miles west of Colebrook. Martin said he believes Pion is unemployed, but his father's livelihood includes cutting hay and other farm-related duties that involve the use of heavy equipment.
By Friday afternoon, Vermont Sheriff's departments from as far away as Brattleboro were lending vehicles to Martin's department, he said. And Vermont State Police sent additional vehicles that were due to be disposed of soon at auction.
"People are really pitching in; the response has been great," the sheriff said.
Meanwhile Friday, workers were in the department parking lot where the wrecks remained, using hydraulic extricating equipment to retrieve weapons and other items from the crushed vehicles, he said.
State police hit Pion with a host of charges, including aggravated assault for attempting to drive the tractor over a Newport City Police cruiser that was after him.
Pion was arrested and processed at the Derby barracks. Police Thursday charged him with seven counts of felony-level unlawful mischief, one count of misdemeanor unlawful mischief, the one count of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, one count of gross negligent operation, and one count of leaving the scene of an accident.
An arraignment scheduled for Friday in Orleans County District Court in Newport was postponed until Tuesday. His bail was boosted Friday from the initial $15,000 on Thursday to $50,000, and he's being held at the Northern State Correctional Center in Newport pending his court appearance.
"He's in jail," Vermont State Police Trooper Lyle Decker said Friday morning. Decker, who's heading the investigation, was also asked if he had ever seen a similar case. "No, not to this extent," he replied.
Asked about a possible motive, Decker said information from Pion had been hard to come by, as of Friday.
"He won't talk to us. I know he's been arrested several times before, and the sheriff's department was involved in some of those arrests," Decker said.
Most recently, Pion was arrested last month for possession of marijuana and resisting arrest, according to Martin, who said he knows Pion, who has been in trouble with numerous law enforcement agencies, including in neighboring Franklin and Lamoille counties in Vermont, on motor vehicle charges.
The sheriff said his department had been involved with Pion in a 2007 arrest for driving after his license was suspended, and what he called a "citizens' dispute" in 2009.
Martin said his department of seven full-time and 25 part-time officers was already bouncing back from Thursday's events.
"We'll be back strong," he said.