Police probe flooded houses 14 units damaged by vandals in two-week period

Repairs: up to $25,000 each

Law enforcers suspect same person or group is to blame

August 06, 1998|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

The vandalism of 14 newly constructed Ellicott City homes in the past two weeks has baffled police and cost four homebuilders as much as $25,000 to repair each house.

The signature of the vandal -- or vandals -- is breaking into newly built homes and flooding them by turning on all the faucets or breaking water pipes, leading police to believe that the same person or group is responsible.

In one of the houses -- the only one that does not fit the flooding pattern -- walls were spray-painted with lewd language and pictures.

The latest incident happened Monday on Rochelle Road in Ellicott Overlook, where five townhouses were flooded, the largest number to be vandalized in one night.

All the houses vandalized were nearly finished -- from one month to two weeks from settlement.

In each case, entry was not forced, and police say they believe someone entered through a window when the houses were unlocked or used a key, said Howard County police Capt. Jay Zumbrun.

But police said they are having a hard time trying to predict the next area to be vandalized because no pattern is discernible in the selection of communities.

"They move around. That's what makes it difficult," said Zumbrun. "With over 100 [local] construction sites, it is difficult to watch every one."

The houses -- all in subdivisions under construction -- range from detached single-family dwellings to townhouses.

The vandalism, which began July 25, has cost four homebuilders -- Columbia Builders Inc., Ryan Homes, Dorsey Family Homes and Ryland Homes -- between $10,000 and $25,000 for each home. Drywall, pipes, floors and carpets have been damaged most.

Zumbrun said there are no suspects, but the focus is on teen-age pranksters or a disgruntled employee of a construction firm.

Zumbrun said police believe the same person -- or group of people -- is involved.

"It's typically the same suspect, but we are not ruling out multiple suspects," he said. "Each house is a little different."

He added that police do not know what the motive for the vandalism is, especially because nothing has been stolen.

"It could be a range from kids who are malicious in the activities to persons associated with homebuilders," Zumbrun said.

Ryland Homes officials said they expect extra costs because of vandalism.

"It's not uncommon. Homebuilding sites are very attractive for juveniles," said Anne Madison, the company's vice president. "They become an amusement park."

Madison said the company tries to protect houses by keeping doors locked and not installing anything valuable -- such as appliances -- until the properties are to be occupied.

"They best thing we can do is make people understand that job sites aren't playgrounds," she said.

Vandalism and theft are not unusual at construction sites, a 1996 National Association of Home Builders survey found.

Of the 277 homebuilders surveyed, 61 percent said theft occurred on their properties. Gopal Ahluwalia, the NAHB director of research, said he believes similar results would probably be found for vandalism.

Ahluwalia said that about 1 percent of the price of a house is due to possible vandalism and destruction.

Zumbrun said this is first streak of housing vandalism he has seen in the county.

But some builders said they are not worried.

"Howard County has been pretty good to everyone," said Eric Bers, president of Pacesetter Homes Inc. in Ellicott City. "It sounds like youth trying to have a good time. We do just enough to scare off the amateurs."

Anyone with information on the incidents may call 410-313-3200.

Pub Date: 8/06/98

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