Sheriff responds to calls for increased Birdseye policing


BIRDSEYE — Dubois County Sheriff Donny Lampert asked residents in and around Birdseye Thursday evening to be vigilant, supportive of law enforcement and secure in the knowledge that calls for increased policing are garnering an intended response.

Deputies have been conducting extra patrols in and around Birdseye after several complaints of illegal drug activity, theft, burglaries and driving complaints in the far southeastern portion of Dubois County. Last month, Tress Vaal, who owns two Birdseye businesses, came to a Birdseye Town Council meeting to issue a call for there to be increased policing of drug and criminal activity

Increased policing led to an arrest Thursday when several deputies were patrolling in the Birdseye area and noticed an older model Chevrolet pickup truck traveling southbound on State Road 145 inside town limits. The deputy attempted to get behind the vehicle to run a routine registration check but the driver, an 18-year-old Birdseye resident, sped away at a high rate of speed. He soon crashed the truck and was taken to Memorial Hospital for treatment.

Police who say he had methamphetamine in his front coat pocket plan to charge the driver with multiple offenses.

Thursday evening, when Birdseye Town Council members convened for December’s meeting, the county sheriff was among those in attendance.

Since the July murder of 49-year-old Darin L. Atkins, officers have been in the Birdseye vicinity almost every day, Lampert said.

The Dubois County Sheriff’s Department found Atkins deceased at his 3543 S. Harts Gravel Road mobile home north of Birdseye July 19 after the Dubois County Communications Center received a 911 call from a woman at 1:59 p.m. that Wednesday reporting there was a deceased male at the location.

The Dubois County Coroner’s Office has said preliminary findings from an autopsy indicated Atkins’ cause of death was a closed head injury by a large, blunt object.

No one has yet been charged with the murder but, in late October, the sheriff’s department arrested a 19-year-old Birdseye man and accused him of entering the murder scene and tampering with it. That suspect is charged with a Level 4 felony count of burglary and a Level 6 felony count of obstruction of justice.

Lampert detailed some reasons prohibiting deputies from patrolling the southeastern portion of the county with even more frequency. Sheriff’s deputies are officers of the courts so, in addition to taking domestic violence calls and working accidents, they also serve warrants and other forms of process and preside over evictions, plus transport prisoners between the Dubois County Security Center and courthouse for court appearances.

Last month, Lampert said, 77 people were booked into the county jail and the sheriff’s department had 582 calls for service.

Seated next to Lampert inside Town Hall was Birdseye Town Marshal Benton Stroud.

Stroud is a part-time officer whose compensation is capped at $1,300 per month. Right now, council members cannot handle a pay raise that could fund additional patrolling by the marshal.

Lampert said his department can use more officers and Birdseye really needs a full-time officer but, given funding constraints, residents need to be thankful for what they do have.

The sheriff said the last thing he wants is for people to lose faith in law enforcement.

“If people talk bad about law enforcement, the people who are doing the drugs and the crime — you just feed them,” Lampert said, emboldening them to become even more intimidating.

“You’ve got to work with your law enforcement because we will make it through this,” the sheriff said.

In addition to Stroud’s policing and extra patrols by deputies, Indiana State Police and Indiana Conservation Officers have also “really stepped it up too,” Lampert said. “We don’t care how bad it is up here, we’re coming. We are not going to stop coming.”

Utility Clerk Donna King said she has noticed the police presence.

“I see you going up and down the roads all the time,” King said. “If people are not seeing you, it’s because they are not looking out the window.”

Lampert said it is up to residents to immediately call when they notice suspected criminal activity. All too often, he added, days have passed before the department is notified about a situation.

“If it’s a break-in in progress,” Lampert answered a resident who asked for a number to dial, “call 911. If not, if it’s someone being suspicious and possibly casing a place, call 812-482-9111. That’s the non-emergency number.”

Something that could really help combat local criminal activity, especially the drug epidemic, is increased access to long-term mental health care, he said.

The sheriff shared his belief that drug crime is not non-violent crime.

“If you’re a drug dealer, to me that’s violent,” Lampert said, “because I’ve seen the kids overdose and I’ve seen the families torn apart.”

Lampert said his main goal in coming to the town council meeting was to ensure “we do not lose faith in each other. And hope.

“When faith and hope is gone, forget it,” he said. “I’m here to reach out to everybody. I preach too much sometimes, but I believe in this community.”


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