Roger Pion, 34, of Newport, has been behind bars since his alleged rampage at the Orleans County Sheriff's Department last week. Pion is accused of using a monster tractor to flatten seven police cruisers. And it's still the talk of the town.
"We see tractors every day, but it was surreal when it hit," Marc Quirion said. "You heard the metal colliding, glass breaking."
Quirion was working across the street and couldn't believe his eyes when he saw two sheriff's deputies chasing the tractor on foot-- their cruisers reduced to crumpled hunks of metal in a matter of minutes.
"Some are saying he's a hero. I don't think he is," Quirion said. "He just destroyed the protection of the community."
But Pion's friends are painting a different picture of the Newport man.
"Roger would be there for anybody. He doesn't have a mean bone in his body," said Tina Thompson, a friend of Pion.
They say he was pushed to his breaking point after police hounded him for years.
"He can't even leave his property without them being on him, ticketing him," Thompson said. "I happen to know they stopped him the night before and that morning about his dog in his front seat. I'm not really sure when the sheriffs' became dog wardens."
Thompson is standing behind Pion because she says her biracial daughter was also singled out by the sheriffs. To get even, she's contributing hundreds to Pion's defense fund. And his lawyer says she's not alone. Donations are coming in from around the globe.
"There seems to be a growing sense that we're over-policed these days," said David Sleigh, Pion's lawyer.
Sleigh says the contributions will go directly to litigation costs. His client is facing 14 criminal charges. He pled not guilty to all of them Tuesday, but not before his lawyer tried to get some of them tossed.
"I just don't think there's any evidence to show that Roger intended to hurt anyone," Sleigh said.
"He began to back up toward them as they sat in their cruisers. So they started to back up as they were in fear that Roger was going to drive the tractor right over them," Orleans County Prosecutor Alan Franklin read from the affidavit.
But Pion's lawyer told the judge the state did not have enough evidence to meet the standard for attempted aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He also argued that Pion's seven counts of unlawful mischief-- one for each cruiser destroyed-- should be reduced to one.
"You can't charge someone with separate counts if there was only one crime committed," Sleigh said. "It's a violation of double jeopardy."
We tried to get the sheriff's department on the phone Tuesday to respond to the harassment allegations. They were unavailable for comment. On Friday, Sheriff Kirk Martin would not say whether Pion was out for revenge.
The judge made no ruling on the disputed charges Tuesday. His decision should come within a few days. Pion is still being held for lack of $50,000 bail.
The tractor incident took out more than half the fleet of the Orleans County Sheriff's Department. The crushed cars were shipped to Albany, N.Y., to be sold at auction for spare parts. In the mean time, the sheriffs are borrowing cruisers from other counties and Essex is helping them out with their daily transports. The damage is surpassing $250,000. There's no timeline yet of when new cruisers will be ready. What's clear is replacing the cars will ultimately fall on the taxpayers.
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