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Punta Gorda - Some
Residents Arm Against Looters

By Debi Springer
Herald Tribune.com
8-21-4
 
Officials step up canal patrols, arrest more than 12 people on theft, prowling, burglary charges
 
CHARLOTTE COUNTY -- Some anxious residents are arming themselves and patrolling their neighborhoods to protect what little they have left after Hurricane Charley.
 
Men in a Punta Gorda neighborhood sleep with their shotguns, and in another neighborhood a man was arrested after he shot at a truck that didn't belong there. A sign at the entrance to a third neighborhood warns: "You loot; we shoot."
 
With no power, water or communications, many residents have come up with worst-case scenarios for what's going on around them. And they say they don't feel safe without their weapons.
 
Those residents, isolated from the rest of the world, say they've heard looters are no longer interested in stealing TVs; now they're after generators and water -- supplies people need to survive.
 
Teresa and Lonnie Brick, who lost their roof, pulled back the blankets on their bed in a borrowed trailer to reveal the two shotguns they sleep with.
 
"All of the neighbors are like this," Lonnie Brick said. "The worst thing about it all? There was no news. All we heard were rumors."
 
"Massive widespread looting, and we heard there was total destruction and hundreds of dead bodies. We couldn't see to the next street; we didn't know," Teresa Brick said.
 
Authorities have arrested more than a dozen people on theft, prowling and burglary charges in recent days, according to arrest reports. They've also stepped up patrols in the county's canals, where residents say looters have been boating in to plunder homes.
 
There are 600 National Guard members in the county. Some of those troops help enforce curfew, setting up roadblocks and patrolling streets at night.
 
But still, residents in some neighborhoods are working on their own. One resident suffered hallucinations after staying up for five days protecting his property from looters, according to a doctor at a FEMA mobile emergency unit in Punta Gorda.
 
The night after the hurricane, Lonnie Brick and four of his neighbors sat in an empty boat shed with rifles, waiting to turn people away. They'd already had people in their neighborhood near the Punta Gorda Country Club wanting to sell them particle board at $35 a sheet and a tree service wanting $500 up front to start clearing trees.
 
Authorities were called out to Brick's neighborhood the night after the hurricane when someone reported that there were nine vigilantes with shotguns roaming the neighborhood.
 
It was an an exaggeration, Brick said. There were only five of them and they were in the boat shed. Police warned the residents not to go after looters, but to call 911.
 
"I handed him my cell phone, which doesn't work at all, and said, 'You try,'" Lonnie Brick said.
 
For those who think no one will shoot, think again.
 
Neon orange circles spray-painted on an Edgewater street show the location of seven shell casings.
 
"When Jeb declared it a state of emergency, to me that means martial law," Cliff McMahon said. "People were stealing plywood from a home on our block a day before the hurricane."
 
McMahon, 44, a retired home improvement contractor, and his wife, Joanne, were walking on Moorehaven Court when a truck sped toward them Saturday night. Cliff McMahon said the driver was speeding at more than 50 miles per hour. He waved his arms at the people in the truck, hoping they'd slow down.
 
McMahon, who had a 9 mm pistol holstered at his side, said the driver stopped and reached under his seat. That's when McMahon says he pulled his gun.
 
The driver jumped back in his truck and tried to run him down, McMahon said. McMahon said he was only protecting himself when he shot at the truck.
 
"I was defending myself and my neighbors," McMahon said. "There's no better way to do that than with a sidearm."
 
Police arrested McMahon after he found an officer in the neighborhood and told him what happened. He was charged with brandishing and discharging a firearm. He's been the only resident arrested in recent days on those charges.
 
McMahon said his arrest was practically a blessing. He spent the night in the air-conditioned Sarasota County jail and said it was the most sleep he's gotten since the hurricane.
 
McMahon's friends and neighbors are quick to come to his defense. He's been rewiring their pool pumps to run off generators, patching their roofs and letting them use his generator.
 
When asked if he's still armed, McMahon looked at the ground. His friend, Pete Bates, answered for him.
 
"You're supposed to say, 'no,' Cliff. No. No gun for him," Bates said.
 
Once they get power back, Teresa Brick said they'll put the guns away, but right now their street is so inky-black at night they want people to stay away.
 
The couple says they are grateful for relief workers who come during the day.
 
Staff writer Michael A. Scarcella contributed to this report.
 
http://www.heraldtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?A
ID=/20040821/NEWS/408210498/1385




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