Saturday, February 9, 2008

Van Guilders acquitted in trespassing case

Roc Van Guilder and his son Lee were acquitted Friday of misdemeanor criminal trespassing and criminal damage to property in connection with a Dec. 1, 2006 incident.

On that day, and because of the weather, heavy equipment was banned from driving in certain areas of the rain-soaked township roads. So Baugh’s property was used instead, as the heavy equipment was ordered to make its way toward its destination – the first of a dozen or more houses the state purchased and prepared for demolition. The destruction of houses is meant to aid in the development of the proposed Peotone airport, though the project has yet to gain official approval by the FAA. The legal issue became all about who ordered the bulldozers to cross the property.

According to courtroom observers, Will County Associate Judge Marilee Viola felt that the state did not prove its case against the two contractors, believing they were not the ones to give the order to drive a piece of 80,000 lb. equipment across the farm field belonging to Mark and Lynn Baugh.

At the time of the incident, the Van Guilders were employed by Hanson Professional Services, Inc., the company hired by the elder Van Guilder’s former boss – ex-Transportation Secretary Kirk Brown – who upon retiring, also went to work for Hanson.

Van Guilder has a 20-year history with the airport project, having previously worked as the airport’s project manager for the state’s consultant, TAMS, which has been taken over by Earth-Tech.

Mark Baugh’s first reaction was disbelief, but not surprise. He is very disappointed in the ruling and said this may not be the end of it.

“I didn’t know what information the judge did and didn’t have,” Baugh said. Because he was a witness he wasn’t in the courtroom for all of the testimony, but added that the judge should have had all the information to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.

“The fact that they didn’t have permission to cross my property should have been enough,” Baugh said. He added, “They (the Van Guilders) deceived the operators by telling them to ‘head west’ knowing there was private property to cross.

“It is far easier to ask for forgiveness after the fact, hoping they wouldn’t get caught, than to seek permission to use my property,” Baugh said. “What they did was wrong.”

Still, he is appreciative that Will County State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow decided to prosecute the case. And, he is grateful for the efforts of those who investigated and prosecuted it.

Will County Board Member John Anderson was involved in this case, to the extent that he urged Glasgow to get involved.

“Today, I learned that Judge Viola acquitted the Van Guilders. I am disappointed by her decision and vehemently disagree with her conclusions, but I do respect her ruling,” Anderson said.

Anderson said that it was his understanding that Judge Viola believed there was insufficient notice that trespassing was not permitted.

“However, there is a ‘no trespassing sign’ in Mark Baugh's front yard,” Anderson pointed out. “Additionally, Lee Van Guilder himself testified that he walked up to the front door to ask permission to move the machinery through the property. Van Guilder would not have gone to ask permission if he really believed that the machine would be allowed to cross the property.”

Despite his disagreement with the judge’s decision, Anderson believes the Van Guilder's prosecution is still a win for the Baugh's and for residents living in the area of the proposed airport footprint.

“The mere fact that the Van Guilders were prosecuted sends a clear message that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated, and the rights of residents living in the footprint area command respect,” Anderson said, admitting that he has received dozens of complaints about trespassing by the Van Guilders and employees of IDOT or Hanson.

Anderson is also grateful to Glasgow. He said when he asked Glasgow to accompany him to the Baugh's property to view the damage, Glasgow drove across the county in a snow storm. He is also grateful to the prosecutors who worked so hard on the case.
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