Residents testify about noise from firing range

Racket has increased, they tell Carroll judge

January 27, 1999|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Longtime neighbors of Deep Run Rifle and Revolver Club Inc. told a Carroll County judge yesterday that noise from the range has increased so much the past few years that they often leave their homes to escape the racket.

Neighbors of the northern Carroll County range want the court to order less noise from the 50-year-old facility, north of Westminster. The trial continues today in Carroll Circuit Court.

Residents said they have lived peacefully next to the club until the past few years. Events at which groups of people shoot continuously have increased, and members park all along Deep Run Road, residents said.

David Jarinko, the noise-control enforcement specialist for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said his measurements showed 90-decibel readings. Forty-five decibels is the normal level.

"This is the most extraordinary case I've experienced, no question about it," said Jarinko, who has investigated 14 other existing or proposed gun ranges.

But Thomas E. Hickman, an attorney for the club, said in his opening statement that the club is exempt from state noise-pollution laws because it has been operating since before 1983.

"If it's a nuisance, it's a permanent nuisance," he told Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. "It's our contention this suit really should be dismissed."

No proof has been offered regarding other allegations of reduced property values and safety problems, he said.

"This is a very important case," Hickman said. "Three shooting clubs in Carroll County have closed. The number of clubs is going down, while the interest in shooting is going up. This is a gun-club area of the state, of the county."

The first witness was Mildred Rittase, a 70-year-old retired nurse who has lived 250 yards from the club on West Deep Run Road for 43 years. She testified she had no trouble sleeping during the day before her night shift at Carroll County General Hospital most of those years.

But since 1994 or 1995, Rittase said, she cannot nap or entertain friends without being "embarrassed." The shooting starts by 10 a.m. and goes on until dark, almost every weekend and often during the week, she said.

"You can hear it with the windows closed, with the TV on, with the furnace on. You can hear it in the shower," she said. "To get away, you have to leave your house. You have to leave -- there's nothing you can do to get away from the sound."

Marvin Ray Scott, one of the last to move into the area, said the noise drove away first his wife and then his roommate. Even his Labrador retriever is afraid to go beyond the porch. He can't use the two decks he built, watch television or lie in his hammock and listen to a ballgame.

He leaves and goes fishing, he told the judge.

Neighbor Dana Lyons, who has lived there since 1971, said she can no longer put her horses in the pasture near the club because of the noise. She moved the horses and has to haul in hay and water.

Worse, Lyons said with a catch in her voice, some guests left a baptism party for her 20-month-old son because their children were afraid of the gunfire, asking her, "How can you stand to live here?"

Michael P. Darrow, the attorney representing about a half-dozen neighboring families, noted in his opening statement that the club acquired its land from one of the plaintiffs' relatives. The plaintiffs are not newcomers or anti-gun activists but longtime residents dealing with a change in the noise level, he said.

"They have lived there quite a number of years -- 25, 30 years or more," he said. "The problems arose just in the last several years, 1994 to 1995.

"It was a good neighbor," Darrow said, until the club began trying to attract members and nonmembers -- advertising by computer.

"People have come from Pennsylvania, New York and Georgia to engage in the activities here," he said.

The Carroll County lawsuit was the last of its kind to be filed in Maryland -- docketed one day before the July 1, 1997, effective date of a law passed by the General Assembly that protects gun clubs against such private-nuisance actions, Darrow said.

Scott, who owns rifles and shotguns, said he used the Deep Run range 15 to 20 times in the past 20 years for simple target shooting. He also has heard semiautomatic fire from the range recently, he said -- a claim challenged by Hickman on cross-examination.

"We were just taking shots: a shotgun going off, a pop, like a firecracker," he said. Now, "If you were at the Inner Harbor on the Fourth of July for the grand finale -- that's what you hear constantly for a six- or seven-hour period."

Pub Date: 1/27/99

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