Farmer gets probation, fine in firing of shotgun


May 26, 2007

A 59-year-old organic farmer was sentenced yesterday to a year of unsupervised probation and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine for firing a shotgun in his Baltimore County home with a former employee in the next room.

James J. Dasher, owner of a nonprofit farm in Worthington Valley that provides food for Maryland soup kitchens and homeless shelters, was convicted in March of reckless endangerment. A jury acquitted him of first-degree assault, a more serious charge that stemmed from the former employee's contention that Dasher twice fired the shotgun at him while accusing him of having an affair with his fiancee.

Dasher testified at trial that he intended to give David L. Wonderlin the shotgun and a knife as farewell gifts but accidentally fired the gun after tripping on his shoelaces.

Defense attorney James G. Pyne asked the judge to consider the good that his client has accomplished and to grant Dasher probation before judgment - a finding that would essentially wipe the reckless endangerment conviction from Dasher's record.

In support of his request, Pyne offered Circuit Judge Ruth A. Jakubowski a stack of letters - nearly an inch thick - written by elected officials, community activists and advocates for the poor in the 17 years since Dasher founded Garden Harvest, a 100-acre farm that produces and donates food to agencies that feed the hungry.

"We're here on a reckless endangerment sentencing because Mr. Dasher was walking down a hallway with a loaded gun," Pyne told the judge.

But prosecutor John P. Cox countered that the events that unfolded in Dasher's house in August 2005 when Wonderlin was picking up his final paycheck were much more serious. He asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence - five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Because Dasher has spent the nearly two years since his arrest on home detention, he had earned 21 months of credit toward any sentence that would be imposed. Jakubowski noted that even with a five-year sentence, Dasher could be set free promptly, on parole or for earning enough credits for mandatory release.

She sentenced Dasher to five years, suspending all but the 21 months that Dasher served. The judge ordered Dasher to relinquish his guns.

Jennifer McMenamin


Government buildings to get Wi-Fi

Free wireless Internet service is being made available in the government campus area in Towson under a pilot program, county officials said.

The Wi-Fi service will be provided around the County Courts building and the Old Courthouse, along with the County Office Building and Jefferson Building on West Chesapeake Avenue, officials said. In about a month, two additional "hot spots" will be powered up near the county library in Towson.

Towson University is providing the Internet connection, and the county is providing wireless equipment. The service could eventually be expanded to other areas.

County Executive James T. Smith Jr. is to formally announce the establishment of the Wi-Fi network Tuesday.


Warnings on swimming in reservoirs

With the summer swimming season about to begin, county fire and emergency-medical officials issued a reminder that swimming in the three reservoirs in the county is illegal.

Last year, four young people drowned within a week while swimming in prohibited areas.

Swimming is illegal at the city-owned Prettyboy, Loch Raven and Liberty reservoirs. Swimming in private, abandoned quarries constitutes trespassing and is illegal, officials said.

Swimming in bodies of water such as reservoirs is unsafe because the waters are full of hidden rocks, fallen trees and unstable ledges, the depths fluctuate suddenly, underwater visibility is poor and currents can be treacherous, officials said.

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