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Damaged mailboxes

"Every spring, as soon as the nighttime air warms enough for someone to snake his body out a car window with a baseball bat in his hands while someone else drives the car, Whidbey Island mailboxes start to take a beating.During the past two weeks, Langley Police and Island County Sheriff's Deputies have investigated at least three instances of mailbox bashing, -- a destructive pastime in which vandals damage private mailboxes with blunt objects and explosives. In the mildest of these incidents, a few mailboxes were dented and knocked off their mountings. In the most severe, an unknown postal assailant used explosives to destroy a mailbox in Langley. Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley said this week that the recent rash of bashings comes at the end of a long lull in this type of vandalism. Mailbox bashing is one of the most difficult types of crime for his office to solve, Hawley said. There are rarely witnesses, and those who commit the crime are typically not the usual suspects.These crimes are committed by kids who don't commit other crimes, Hawley said.It is also one of the most common crimes in Island County, with local law enforcement investigating up to 150 such incidents every year.Technically, mailbox bashing is a federal offense, since mail can be destroyed when a box is damaged. A federal prosecution for such a crime can bring jail time and thousands of dollars in fines.But, Hawley said, those prosecutions are rare. Typically, bashers who do get caught are prosecuted under state and county statutes. When Island County or Langley law enforcement arrests a suspect for mailbox bashing, he or she is usually prosecuted for a misdemeanor crime of malicious mischief. However, one case last year was an exception to that rule. A vandal destroyed 20 mailboxes on North Whidbey and caused more than $1,000 in damage. After sheriff's personnel arrested him, the prosecutor's office charged him with a felony, based on the dollar amount of damage done.Mail patrons have several options open to them when it comes to protecting their mailboxes. Hawley said the most effective is to get a post office box. Barring that, he said, some homeowners have had luck with mailboxes made of high-impact plastic, known affectionately as Tupperware mailboxes. One mailbox owner on North Whidbey even went so far recently as to hook up a video camera to a tree to film mailbox bashers in the act, Hawley said.Since the crimes are so random, Hawley said, citizens and the sheriff's office citizens patrol have the best chance of identifying mailbox bashers. Several of these vandals were caught last year thanks to the citizens patrol. Anyone with information about these mailbox crimes or other acts of vandalism is encouraged to contact the Island County Sheriff's Office by calling 911."

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