Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Dodge, the girl, and the offshore credit card blues

Heightened national security may isolate tugboat engineer, end his career

I used to love to watch her dance that grizzly bear.
I guess she's gone to San Francisco – ho – to dance it there
Because when I woke up this morning,
She was gone, solid gone...

- a gold miner's song of old Angel's Camp, ca. 1849

Joshua – The holder of an unlimited tonnage diesel engineer's license, James Syndergaard is a key man in the petroleum industry's continuing exploitation of the energy resources of the Gulf of Mexico, Trinidad and other South American offshore drilling venues such as Argentina.

Hard working and a good earner, he has access to credit and lives the quickly evaporating blue collar dream of good pay, plenty of time off and a home of his own.

The only catch is that since he works offshore on seagoing tugs that pull and push massive barge loads of supplies and position huge drilling platforms, workover, and production rigs over the salt domes and caverns located several miles beneath the ocean floor, he's gone as much as he's home.

With a residence on the Bosque side of Lake Whitney, he is acutely aware of the dangers of going to work offshore and leaving a house full of possessions to the attentions of the drug addicts and professional burglars who prey on men who live alone and divide their time between the sea and the land.

Men of his type are in constant need of a house sitter whose very presence will keep away the predators who make their living off stealing and fencing other peoples' televisions, stereos, fishing poles, outboard motors, jewelry, firearms, computers, tools and anything else of value – with or without serial numbers.

Knowing who to trust and making the right decision is the key to happiness. Make the wrong choice, and life turns into a nightmare.

A year ago, Mr. Syndergaard took his RBS credit card away from Deana Chilton after she ran the balance up to $4,000 in his absence. He put the card in his billfold, thinking his troubles were over, and went back to work caring for the huge, screaming locomotive engines that power the electrical generators that drive the towing vessels of the oil fields.

Though those troubles were just beginning, it took considerable time for them to build up to the astonishing hassle that was about to take place and turn his life into a slow motion train wreck.

Fresh off the boat for an onshore trick at the house, Mr. Syndergaard got a notice of a security breach on the same card on June 29.

It couldn't be his card because he never activated it. It had to be the one he took away from Ms. Chilton, the one he put in his billfold back in February. A quick phone call to her brought her assurance that she did not have the card, that he had taken it away from her months in the past. She advised him to change the number on the card, since it must have been stolen.

He did that, but at the same time, he visited the filling station where someone had used his card.

Sure enough, the video surveillance cameras showed her making the transaction at the time the computers recorded on the specified date.

Ms. Chilton told him, “I paid cash.” The station manager showed him the video again.

The video plainly showed the cash drawer at the register never opened, so it could have never closed on Deana Chilton's cash.

When he got out of bed on June 30, both Ms. Chilton and her running buddy Jennifer Stockton were nowhere to be found. Neither was his purple 2007 Dodge Charger R/T, a limited edition of a very, very hot production car of which only a few are manufactured each year – all of them the same color, a color which changes every year.

“It's not exactly a white Chevrolet pickup,” says Mr. Syndergaard.

She texted later in the day to say she would be home soon. He texted her back telling her not to bother, she had no home. So, she didn't bother bringing the Charger back, either, and that night when he checked, the card balance was now $6,057.

He changed the locks on July 1. Sometime around then, he noticed a couple of signed checks were missing. When he contacted her, she said she had none of his checks. That's when the bank contacted him about the rubber check that had bounced back to their door; they explained his balance was now $-614.15.

In a text message, Ms. Chilton told him she had “taken care of the bank.”

There followed a car chase on the Whitney side of the lake and a missed appointment to return Mr. Sydergaard's car - an appointment brokered by a remote Deputy Potts of the Bosque County Sheriff's Department. From his phone, the lawman ordered her to make the return.

Mr. Syndergaard got a friend to fly in from California to take of the house and dogs while he began tracking the elusive purple Charger with Ms. Chilton's cell phone and a friend's computerized GPS tracking device.

When the show down came, it was at a filling station four blocks from the Joshua Police Department, a law enforcement agency whose officers, Mr. Syndergaard says, refused to help him recover his car.

They said he had might as well just go get it himself.

When he saw her gassing up at a filling station on the corner of Hwy 917 at Hwy 174, he pulled in and blocked her at the pumps. She locked the doors and rolled up the windows, then began to back and fill around him, nearly running over his foot.

That's when he made a perhaps fatal decision to drop a tool on the windshield of his car.

He says it was a “fubar” combination wrecking bar and hammer.

The indictment and information on file in the District Clerk's office in Cleburne says it was a pipe wrench.

Whatever it was, it shattered the windshield and kept Ms. Chilton from running over Mr. Syndergaard's foot.

“I went out there with the intention of either recovering or disabling the vehicle,” said Mr. Syndergaard. As to his act of dropping the – whatchacallit – on the windshield, he explains, “It was not only an act of self defense, it was an attempt to disable the vehicle.”

After all, it was a stolen car and the cops had told him he should recover it himself; they were not going to get involved, and they didn't.

Was the car disabled?

In the mind of a professional diesel engineer licensed for unlimited tonnage by the U.S. Coast Guard of the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation, the answer is yes.

That's how his mind works.

In the mind of woman with no home, driving a stolen vehicle and busted on video making an unauthorized purchase on a stolen credit card, the answer is no.

Ms. Chilton went to a Wal-Mart store, bought a skull decal, applied it over the shatter part of the windshield, and kept on driving the Charger R/T, the purple one made in 2007.

That's how her mind works.

In the legal mind of the Joshua police officer who investigated the happening, what took place was an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

The District Attorney's prosecutor told the Grand Jury the assault was committed with the intent to kill.

The jurors agreed and the indictment alleges that on July 11, 2011, he did “then and there intentionally or knowingly threaten Deana Chilton with imminent bodily injury by striking a car window with a pipe wrench causing the glass to hit her and did then and there use or exhibit a deadly weapon, to wit: a pipe wrench, that in the manner of its use or intended use is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury, during the commission of the said assault.”

That's how the collective legal mind of the People of the State of Texas works.

It appears from the record that is available, which is the felony case jacket on Cause No. F45844 of the 413th District Court, People v. James V. Syndergaard, that the people of the state of Texas will have to prove each and every element of the indictment to a jury of 12 people, which jury will have to reach a unanimous verdict of either acquittal, or conviction for this or an array of any other charges as they may be instructed in a jury charge by Judge William C. Bosworth, Jr., after both the prosecution and defense rest and have delivered their final arguments.

There is no pre-sentence investigation on file by the Adult Probation Department, which means Mr. Syndergaard has no intention of applying for a suspended sentence on a lesser charge. Judge Bosworth has not ordered any urinalysis or attendance at a 12-step program, the great social band-aid designed to cure all ills and evils to which men and women accused of all manner of crimes both high and misdemeanor seem to fall prey.

In this case, it's either all or nothing.


“I'm licensed by both the Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration,” Mr. Syndergaard explained. “They aren't interested so much with what offense you have been convicted for, but for what you have been arrested for.”

In the post-9/11 world of national security in the transportation business, it's the basic judgment of a licensee that is up for interpretation.

Flying commercial aircraft, wrenching on the engines and generators of ships whose mission is vital to national security, directing the flight path of airliners, or operating a locomotive that pulls 100 cars loaded with coal – it all comes down to what kind of frame of mind a person exhibits by the kind of foibles and fusses he or she either avoids, or in which one may choose to adroitly avoid, sidestep, or go around, over, under or through.

Those who avoid the hassles stay licensed; those who cannot find a way to stay out of those kind of hassles find themselves isolated, unlicensed, marginalized and seeking employment of a less responsible nature.

There is a lot at stake. It's the difference in having a good paying career with full benefits, on the one hand; on the other hand, it's a choice of keeping bad jobs and taking breaks with no vacation pay

The final pre-trial maneuver takes place on March 2 in a status conference between opposing counsel and the judge.

More on this later.

The Legendary intends to trail this slow motion train wreck like a herd of beef, plumb to Dodge City or Cowtown - simply because it's smack dab on the way to Montana.

Oh, one last thing. The Joshua Police Department has still not made a decision whether to allow The Legendary access to the offense and arrest reports they generated on or about July 11, 2011. There may be litigation involved, and though I filled out an open records request form, they have not made a decision on letting me know the address where the offense took place, the time, weather, or anything else.

There may some kind of litigation involved, the officer on duty said.

'People just don't have any common sense today - especially cops'

- a veteran lawman who serves felony fugitive warrants for a living

1 comment:

  1. I would love to know the outcome of this, for want of a better word, "fiasco". Keep us posted..If this took place in Bosque Co..totally understandable.