Along River Road in Essex Junction, just beyond the intersection with Route 289, sits a trailer-mounted sign offering a reward for “information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for assaulting a man, with an ax, who was stopped on Silver Street in Monkton Village around 4:00 PM on April 27, 2011.” The sign appeared in January and has been updated several times since then, upping the reward in increments from $2500 to its current figure, $10,000.
WTF? To get the lowdown, I inquired at the nearest house, where a woman directed me down a long dirt drive to the home of her landlord, Ron Siegriest. As I drove there, I passed a sign that read, “PRIVATE! If you’ve gone this far, you’re too far! SLOWLY BACK OUT.” Outside Siegriest’s house were several newer vehicles, including a black Mustang convertible.
Siegriest’s wife, Alice, greeted me and said her husband was suffering from a severe cold. But when I explained the reason for my visit, Ron Siegriest yelled to her to let me in.
Siegriest, 68, sprawled on a recliner in the living room, wearing only a pair of yellow boxers and a newspaper over his chest. A rifle leaned against the wall beside him, next to a sliding glass door that revealed an impressive view of the Winooski River. He occasionally lapsed into bouts of coughing as he recounted the story behind the sign.
Siegriest described himself as a longtime Vermont landlord who owns “several dozen” rental properties, including one in Richmond Village. In September 2009, he explained, a tenant moved into that building and soon thereafter stopped paying his rent, claiming the apartment was flea infested. According to Siegriest, the man later sued him in small-claims court for $4700 but lost.
Evidently, there was no love lost between Siegriest and his tenant, who sought and was later granted a no-trespass order against his landlord. In May 2010, the tenant finally moved out, and Siegriest assumed that would be their last encounter.
On April 11, 2011, Siegriest was on his way to Middlebury to check out a motorcycle he was interested in buying. He drove his new Mustang, with the top down and windows open, through Monkton Village and stopped at a three-way sign, where a truck pulled up beside him. Its driver, purportedly his former tenant, yelled at him to pull over.
“Even before I stopped my vehicle, he nailed me right in the mouth with a full fist,” Siegriest alleged. “I never expected that. I thought things were over. But they weren’t.”
After the initial attack, Siegriest claimed, he drove off and called the state police, then returned to write down the truck’s license plate number. It was then, he further alleged, that “the man grabs an ax from the back of his truck and ... came and swung it at me full force through the back window ... Hit me right in the ear!”
According to state police records, a trooper from the New Haven barracks responded.
“I said, ‘I want him arrested. Take him away!’” Siegriest said. “But they did nothing. They did nothing.”
Instead, Siegriest complained, the police gave him a Breathalyzer test. “So, now it’s his word against mine, with a bleeding ear.”
When reached by phone, Addison County State’s Attorney David Fenster could say only that he had reviewed Siegriest’s account of the events that day but ultimately declined to prosecute.
“A trooper went out and did an investigation and submitted a report to my office for review,” Fenster added. “We reviewed it and found that there was insufficient evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Repeated phone calls to the New Haven state police barracks to confirm or deny Siegriest’s account went unanswered.
Siegriest claimed he later went to the hospital, was treated for a mild concussion and was released the same day.
“[The police] suggested that I hit myself in the head and set the whole thing up!” he added indignantly. “I think it’s an inside job. I really do.”
This isn’t the first time Siegriest has claimed to be the victim of a crime — nor the first time he’s posted a sign on his property offering a reward. Over Labor Day weekend in 2007, his home was burglarized; thieves made off with a safe containing more than $60,000 in cash, he said. (Essex Police confirmed that at least one suspect was charged in that case.) Another time, Siegriest said, thieves made off with one of his ATVs. It was later recovered, thanks to another sign he posted on River Road.
Lt. Robin Hollwedel of the Essex Police Department said he doesn’t know whether Siegriest’s sign is in compliance with Vermont’s no-billboard law. “I can’t say a lot of about Ron [Siegriest],” he added, “but he’s a savvy enough guy that he would know to make it one inch less than whatever the law allows.”
So how much money is Siegriest willing to offer to lock up the man he claims assaulted him?
“It’s $10,000 now. Next it’ll be $20,000, then $40,000, then $80,000. Money is not an object for me,” he said. “I don’t care how he goes, but he will go [to jail]. You don’t hit a man in the head with an ax.”
So far, the sign hasn’t resulted in any leads.
“We’ve had eggs thrown all over it,” Siegriest lamented, “so I guess that tells you something.”
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