The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 20, 2011

One firefighter charged in tornado looting case

By Jeff Lehr
news@joplinglobe.com

JOPLIN, Mo. — The Jasper County prosecutor has charged one dismissed Baxter Springs firefighter with stealing from the Joplin Home Depot store in Joplin the night of the May 22 tornado, but has declined to charge a second.

Prosecutor Dean Dankelson filed a misdemeanor offense of stealing Wednesday against Matthew W. Page, 25, in Jasper County Circuit Court.

Page was one of three firefighters dismissed June 9 by the town of Baxter Springs, Kan., for alleged misconduct during the emergency response to the tornado. Fire Chief Les Page, the father of Matt Page, was placed on administrative leave at the same time as the dismissals.

Joplin police sought charges against another of the dismissed firefighters, Brandon Bailey, as well as Page.

“We filed on the one that we had enough evidence on and did not on the other,” Dankelson said.

The probable-cause affidavit filed in Page’s case alleges that the two firefighters took a chain saw, a gas-powered trimmer and a garden hose from the store on Range Line Road while on duty and engaged in the emergency response to the tornado.

Dankelson said police came up with sufficient evidence to prove Page’s involvement in the theft of the trimmer, hose and some wrenches not mentioned in the affidavit. But the theft of the chain saw was “a separate issue,” he said.

The prosecutor put the value of the trimmer, hose and wrenches at about $245, which is well short of the $500 threshold for the filing of a felony offense of stealing. He said that even if there was sufficient evidence to tie the theft of the chain saw to Page as well, the total value of the items would probably come in under $500.

Detective Chip Root of the Joplin Police Department said all of the stolen items except the chain saw were recovered. He said it remains uncertain what happened to it.

“We’re still looking for it,” the detective told the Globe.

His probable-cause affidavit alleges that Matt Page confessed to him on July 6.

The Baxter Springs mayor and city attorney have declined to say why Page’s father, the fire chief, was placed on leave or why he was reinstated earlier this month. City Attorney Robert Myers said July 11 that Les Page was never suspected of any wrongdoing. Les Page has declined to discuss his suspension and reinstatement with the Globe.

Jimmy Younger, a third firefighter let go by Baxter Springs, has told the Globe that he had nothing to do with any stealing from Home Depot. Younger says he was dismissed for alleged misuse of his position as firefighter while helping out with rescue efforts in Joplin on his own time.



Summons

A court summons was being sent to Matt Page in lieu of an arrest warrant being issued.