Box bashing has been serious problem around Carl Junction

By Jeff Wells

Globe Staff Writer

CARL JUNCTION, Mo. - They come late at night, down an abandoned county road. The vandals strike quickly, leaving destruction and inconvenience in their wake.

Those destroying mailboxes may think it's funny, but Mike Durman isn't laughing. Durman, who has lived at 28480 Juniper Road for 18 years, said his mailbox has been destroyed three times in the past two years.

Carl Junction Postmaster Sandy Fisher said more than 60 mailboxes in the Carl Junction area have been damaged or destroyed in the past two months. Fisher has asked federal postal inspectors and local law enforcement to warn local teens about the trouble they may face if they are caught wrecking mailboxes.

Durman's box was last hit two weeks ago, but the latest smash job was not as creative as one a few years ago. The last time, someone set a newspaper in his mailbox on fire. The fire ignited the box. A sheriff's deputy spotted the flames and unsuccessfully tried to catch the vandals.

Durman said it costs from $9 to $60 to replace a smashed mailbox, depending on the replacement chosen. He said he would like to have a talk with the perpetrators if they are caught.

"I wouldn't want anybody to get hurt or spend time in jail, but I would like for them to know how much they cost," Durman said. "Money doesn't grow on trees.

"I think back to when I was a kid. We weren't raised to destroy property. Sure, we had our practical jokes, but we didn't hurt anybody's property."

Charles Cossey, who lives down the road from Durman at 29023 Juniper Road, said his mailbox also was recently damaged. The latest attack was the fifth in seven years, he said.

"It's just real irritating," Cossey said.

Cossey said another neighbor, who has since moved, was so incensed by having to constantly replace his mailbox that he installed his replacement on a circle drive in front of his house so the mail carrier could turn around.

Cossey said that in his case, the vandalism is more a hassle than a financial burden because he has a metal box that he just keeps beating back into shape. "It's an older box and sturdier than the ones you can buy today," he said.

Like Durman, Cossey has had a couple of laughs about the lengths to which the enterprising vandals will go to wreck a mailbox. One time, Cossey said, they must have used a tow chain to drag the box, which has a concrete base, half a mile down the road.

Fisher, the postmaster, said such incidents usually increase around Halloween and when school dismisses in the spring. It is unusual to see so many in February and March, she said.

"It is becoming very inconvenient for the carriers, customers and the people in (the post office)," Fisher said.

The latest strikes have not been isolated to an area north of Carl Junction. Several boxes along Fir Road, southwest of town, also have been smashed recently, Fisher said. Police Chief John Hofer said a handful have been destroyed inside the city limits.

Joplin's postmaster, Rodney Bray, said he isn't sure it's a growing trend elsewhere. "There is always going to be some," he said. "Sometimes other damage occurs, such as from car mirrors, so you never really know for sure how much there really is."

Capt. Kelly Stephens of the Jasper County Sheriff's Department said officers have a tough time catching the vandals. "We have mailbox bashing all over the county," Stephens said. "Sometimes we catch them; sometimes we don't."

If caught, a basher usually faces misdemeanor property-damage charges that will be handed over to the county prosecutor if the vandal is over 17, Stephens said. Younger ones are taken to juvenile authorities.

And, adults sometimes can be charged with a federal felony with possible penalties upon conviction of jail time and fines up to $2,000.

"It's a serious thing," Fisher said. "I don't think kids realize they are damaging federal property and personal property.

"It's a lot more than a harmless prank."

A mailbox-smashing incident turned deadly several years ago in McDonald County when Lou Keeling was sheriff there.

Some young men were out late one night vandalizing mailboxes on what is now called Peach Orchard Road north of the Bunker Hill community, north of Pineville, Keeling said. As the group sped away in a truck, a property owner fired his rifle. A shot struck and killed one of the passengers.

The mailbox owner was charged with second-degree murder or, in the alternative, manslaughter. A jury acquitted him on the charges, according to Joe Schoeberl, the former prosecutor who tried the case. Schoeberl now is an associate judge in Jasper County.

Keeling, who lives in rural Anderson, said he also has been the victim of mailbox bashing. He said he has replaced two boxes in the past two years.

"Every so often, they will go through and smash a bunch of mailboxes," Keeling said. "It happens every so often. You can drive around and see them smashed everywhere."

Hofer, the Carl Junction police chief, said parents need to know where their children are at night. He said that when the vandals are caught, it likely will be with the help of parents.

Postal inspectors, Carl Junction police and sheriff's deputies will talk to Carl Junction High School students about the consequences of mailbox bashing during a schoolwide assembly slated for 10 a.m. Monday, March 29, at the high school.

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