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Trial’s on in case of Vt. cruiser crushing

Special to the Union Leader

February 23. 2014 9:57PM
Two of the Orleans County, Vt., Sheriff's Department cruisers police say Roger Pion destroyed in August 2012. (COURTESY)

The Vermont man who made headlines around the world in 2012 when he used a large farm tractor to flatten nearly an entire fleet of sheriff’s department vehicles in that state is back on the court schedule.

Authorities said Roger Pion, 36, of Newport Center, Vt., had a long-standing grudge against police and expressed that anger in August 2012 by climbing into his father’s Case MX255 — one of the largest tractors available — and driving to the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department.

There, according to Vermont State Police, he drove the 20,000-pound piece of equipment back and forth over at least a half-dozen sheriff’s vehicles, mostly cruisers, in the department’s parking lot.

When Pion, who’s had extensive dealings with Vermont police over the years, was finished, the destroyed vehicles and their contents were as flat as if they’d been run through a car crusher.

Officials estimated the damage at $300,000.

After a mental-health evaluation, a judge declared Pion incompetent to stand trial on more than a dozen charges against him in connection with the destructive rampage, most of them felony-level counts of unlawful mischief.

His attorney at the time, David Sleigh of St. Johnsbury, Vt., said Pion received in-patient mental health care during much of 2013. He was then re-evaluated and, last October, declared competent, Sleigh said earlier this month.

“He was found incompetent by reason of mental disease or defect and was hospitalized. But now the state has re-initiated the prosecution,” Sleigh said.

His new attorney, Chandler Matson of Stowe, Vt., said last week Pion is tentatively scheduled for trial in May in Orleans County Superior Court in Newport, Vt.

“It’s all the same charges; I can’t say too much about the case now,” Matson said.

When officers inside the sheriff’s department at the time became aware of what Pion was allegedly doing outside, they ran to the parking lot where they spotted the wreckage and saw Pion slowly driving away. With their vehicles flattened, they chased the tractor on foot. Newport City Police joined the pursuit, and Pion was apprehended a short time later.

He would likely have had little chance of posting $50,000 bail in order to leave jail pending trial.

However, Pion became a folk hero of sorts, with an online fund drive netting him the $10,000 cash portion he needed to make bail.Orleans County Sheriff Kirk Martin did not return a message left for him Friday.

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