Court scowls at stoplight prank

December 17, 1992|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. was not amused by William Edward Raczkowski's little prank of switching off the traffic signals at the intersection of Route 140 and Sandymount Road last March.

In finding the 19-year-old high school dropout guilty of one count of reckless endangerment yesterday, Judge Burns said that by playing with the signals, Mr. Raczkowski "did, without any doubt, create a substantial risk to a lot of people."

So, for two nights, Mr. Raczkowski was ordered to spend time in the Carroll County Detention Center. And while it is but a fraction of the 18-month sentence Judge Burns imposed yesterday -- the remainder of the sentence was suspended -- the short jail stay is meant to "assist the defendant in becoming a productive member of society," the judge said.

According to a statement of facts read by Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker III, Mr. Raczkowski jumped out of a car in which he was a passenger on March 18, gained access to control panels at the base of the traffic signals and turned off the electricity. The intersection -- considered one of the busiest and most dangerous in the county -- remained without working traffic signals for several hours.

A state police trooper arrested Mr. Raczkowski and charged him with reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum five-year sentence.

In his defense yesterday, Mr. Raczkowski's lawyer claimed that turning off traffic signals amounted to a prank that posed little danger to motorists that day.

"What we have here, judge, is a prank, and, at most, we have a traffic offense, not a case of reckless endangerment," said County Public Defender Barbara Kreinar. "He turned off the lights; he didn't make both of them turn green."

"Call it a prank, fine, but sometimes pranks kill people," replied Mr. Walker.

"He put a lot of drivers at that location in serious risk of being injured."

Mr. Raczkowski is already serving probation for another "prank," in which he was convicted of setting trash can fires several months ago.

In addition to the suspended jail sentence imposed yesterday, Judge Burns ordered Mr. Raczkowski to undergo counseling, earn his high school equivalency degree within a year and serve three years of additional probation.

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