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Friday, July 1, 2016

Dangers in our park go far beyond bees in trees

Friday, June 1, 2012

Just a couple of weeks ago, the most dangerous thing causing concern at Robe-Ann Park in Greencastle was a swarm of bees inhabiting a flowering tree.

A local beekeeper, getting a honey of a deal, collected the queen and her busy bees, and unquestioningly took the sting out of that situation.

City Park Director Rod Weinschenk only wishes the current situation could be resolved as easily.

For in recent days, Robe-Ann Park has been abuzz with a number of strange and unsettling incidents, including:

-- The pummeling of one nine-year-old skateboarder by one of his own best friends.

-- Impromptu fisticuffs along the lines of Fight Club, complete with MMA-style gloves, squared-off combatants and eager spectators.

-- A young man being observed using a taser on himself for reasons known only to him and what, if anything, is now left of his brain.

-- The reported tasing of a juvenile park visitor by another person armed with a taser.

-- The report of someone waving a gun around and making threats near the shelterhouse that overlooks the skatepark.

-- And the discovery of two live .45-caliber rounds of ammunition by a cleaning crew at that same shelterhouse.

"Please be kind to us in the newspaper," Weinschenk urged after divulging those dicey details above and more.

Not in the dozen years since he moved here from Iowa, Weinschenk said, has he encountered anything like this.

Granted, he gets periodic reports of underage smoking, foul language and the presence of drugs as young people gather in the park, particularly on the south side of the grounds. But those issues tend to be expected just from the sheer volume of young people coming and going on a daily basis.

"I would go as far to say that 95 percent of the kids using the skatepark are not a problem," he told the Park Board during a special session Wednesday night at City Hall.

While defending those who frequent the skatepark with their skateboards and trick bikes, Weinschenk wasn't so positive about those he regularly sees hanging out in the adjacent shelter.

The park director characterized 95 percent of those just hanging out without skateboards, bikes or ambition, as apparently bent on causing trouble of some kind.

Weinschenk said he and wife Stacy were driving through the park the other day when they glanced over at the shelterhouse in question and inexplicably "saw somebody tase himself."

Witnessing such behavior would stop anyone in their tracks, as it did the Weinschenks. Rod got out of the car and told the young man to put the taser away and to never bring it back to the park.

"The thing is," he said, "it's not illegal to carry a taser, and it's not illegal to carry a taser in a park."

And apparently also not illegal to tase yourself.

"Can they get arrested for bad judgment?" Park Board member Beva Miller so perfectly asked, extending her logic to all of the loose cannons previously metioned.

Weinschenk also reported encountering a screaming mother angry that her son had just been tased. "Somebody is going to get killed today," Weinschenk quoted her as saying.

So apparently there is more than one knucklehead armed with a taser running around Robe-Ann Park.

Meanwhile, the fisticuffs Weinschenk hinted at earlier were also eye-opening -- or perhaps eye-closing as the case may be.

The first rule of Robe-Ann Park Fight Club is that there is no Robe-Ann Park Fight Club. After discovering a bout about to happen, Weinschenk said he told the would-be fighters: "Not in the park."

He was too late to tell that to the younger foes at the skatepark. There, the nine-year-old skateboarder had apparently called his buddy a less-than-flattering name, prompting that erstwhile pal to smack him five times in the eye.

That pair and their skatepark entourage got a stern lecture from the park director post haste.

"That kid got hit, you got the black eye," Weinschenk told the whole group at the skatepark.

He assured them there is no fighting allowed in the park, no guns allowed in the park, and no tasers allowed in the park.

That would make perfect common sense -- if the last two notions were supported by law, but they are not.

"We've never had anything like this before," Weinschenk sighed in informing his board of the recent incidents.

"There's really no solution," board president John Hennette rationalized.

"There's no solution," Weinschenk repeated.

"It's not illegal to carry a gun in a park ... although it is illegal to take it out of the holster, wave it around and point it at somebody."

That gun-toting park visitor was detained in handcuffs while police investigated, Weinschenk said, noting that the young man had a gun permit and police said the gun was permissible in a holster or on his hip.

In the 12 years he has been in charge, Weinschenk said the only previous gun incident in the park involved a man at the softball diamond with a pistol tucked into his belt. He asked the man to remove it and he complied by locking it inside his truck.

Common sense prevailed there.

The City Park Department wishes that were always true. But just in case it's not, Weinschenk has asked City Police for additional patrols and a greater presence at the park.

Until then, as they used to implore on the TV cop shows, "Hey, let's be careful out there!"