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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, June 17, 2010
Four BKW students arrested on felony charges after motor oil damage at school
By Zach Simeone
BERNE Four Berne-Knox-Westerlo seniors are being charged with felonies after police say they poured motor oil in the school’s hallways and damaged other school property. Three of them were arrested last Friday at the senior picnic, and the fourth later that afternoon. The four students have also been suspended through this school week.
The case has received widespread media coverage. But, contrary to initial reports from the district, this is no longer being referred to as a senior prank by the school or the police.
“This crossed the line when the kids accessed the building during off hours, and then did damage to the building,” said Interim Superintendent Kim LaBelle this week. “A senior prank is typically mischievous in nature, but without damage to the building, and without interrupting the educational program; we had to close school. That’s a severe interruption in the academic day. So, this definitely was not a senior prank.”
The New York State Police arrested Cody Locci, 17, of East Berne; Joseph Vitetta, 18, of Westerlo; Korey Mann, 17, of East Berne; and Zachary Hallenbeck, 18, of East Berne. They have each been charged with third-degree burglary, a felony.
The suspects did not return phone calls to comment.
According to the State Police, the four BKW seniors entered the middle-high school on the morning of June 9, pouring oil on the floors, causing damage to furniture, and writing graffiti on windows and lockers. There were no obvious signs of forced entry, the police said.
“It rose to a felony level based on the amount of damage,” said Trooper Maureen Tuffey, adding, “A burglary is automatically a felony.” And, while there are no additional charges yet, they will likely be charged with felony-level criminal mischief, due to the high costs associated with the damage, Tuffey said.
Seniors’ privileges to use the senior lounge, leave school during lunch, and sign out of study halls were revoked on Thursday, the day after the vandalism. But these rights were restored later that afternoon, and the senior picnic, originally set to take place on the day of the vandalism, was rescheduled for Friday at 1:30 p.m. at Berne Town Park. The arrests took place close to the beginning of the picnic.
“As far as how they determined who the perpetrators were,” Tuffey went on, “they started with interviews of staff and students, and were able to glean a lot of information and tips from them, and followed up with more interviews.”
LaBelle said last week that the district had hoped its video surveillance footage would aid in the investigation, but Tuffey said on Tuesday that it provided little help.
LaBelle pointed out that only four out of close to 100 seniors were arrested.
“This should not be a reflection on the senior class,” LaBelle said. Regarding whether or not these four seniors will graduate, she said, “That is still undetermined.”
The district will make a statement on the vandalism at the school board meeting tonight, Thursday, June 17.