Vandalism could net 7 years

Last modified: 6/3/2011 12:00:00 AM
The four Merrimack Valley High School students accused of forcing administrators to cancel school in April by temporarily disabling the district's buses could face up to seven years in prison.

The police and prosecutors say the teenagers trespassed onto school property and deflated the tires on 27 of the district's 29 school buses in the early hours of April 22, which was the Friday before April vacation. The disabled buses were discovered around 6 a.m., after the drivers had started to arrive at work. By then, it was too late to give families timely notice the approximately 2,500 students could not come to school.

'There are young children that might need daycare,' said Michael Martin, superintendent of the Merrimack Valley School District. 'There were people that might not have been able to get to work on time.'

On May 2, the Concord police arrested Michael Campbell, 17, of Salisbury; Ryan LaRoche, 17, of Loudon; James Capps, 19, of Concord; and Zachary Blanchette, 18 of Webster. Each was charged with one count of criminal mischief, a felony that carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $4,000.

Each was also charged with one count of criminal trespassing, a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Only one of the four has been arraigned: LaRoche pleaded not guilty to both charges in Concord District Court yesterday. The other three have postponed their arraignments while the parties involved negotiate, according to court filings and prosecutors. Blanchette is due back in court for a status review and a probable cause hearing on June 21, but court dates for the others have not yet been scheduled.

Approached at the courthouse, Blanchette declined to comment. Campbell, Capps and LaRoche could not be reached for comment.

While the students did not cause permanent damage to the buses, the state's criminal mischief statute can apply in incidents that cause more than $1,500 in loss or damages, which authorities said happened when the school district had to pay for employees who did not work. The statute also applies when an act creates a 'substantial interruption or impairment of communication or transportation.'

The students' academic status is unclear. Citing student privacy laws, Martin declined to say what, if any, disciplinary action had been taken or whether the four would participate at graduation June 18.

Any action taken by the courts is independent of discipline meted out by the schools, he said.

'That matter is between the student and the court system,' he said. 'I've got to trust the court system to do the right thing.'

(Molly A.K. Connors can be reached at mconnors@cmonitor.com.)




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