January 30, 2009
Neal Wagner -
CALEDONIA -- It may seem like an "innocent prank," but mailbox vandalism can carry some heavy fines and jail time, according to Lowndes County Deputy Sheriff Greg Wright.
Though mail receptacle damage usually comes in "spurts" throughout Lowndes County, it has been a problem for area residents and law enforcement officials for many years, he said.
"Oh yeah, we have definitely had problems with that in the past," Wright said. "Usually what happens is that vandals will hit a whole area within a one- or two-day span and hit multiple mailboxes at once."
Though law enforcement officials have not seen widespread mailbox damage during the past few weeks, at least one Caledonia resident has had multiple boxes destroyed during the past few days.
"It''s really a nuisance," said Ralph Ward, as he stood next to a pair of mailboxes dangling from a wooden post in front of his house on Wolfe Road, Wednesday. "These two mailboxes have been hit several times before by people driving by, whether it was intentional or not.
"This one is mine, and the other one here belongs to my son, who lives next door to me," Ward added. "I just had to buy a new mailbox about a month ago, and now I am going to have to replace the mailbox and the post again."
While Ward is planning to take a trip to Lowe''s in Columbus to purchase new mailboxes and posts, those responsible for the mailboxes'' destruction could be taking a trip to the Lowndes County Adult Detention Center.
"With people destroying these mailboxes, there are two different charges that could be brought against them: misdemeanor malicious mischief and felony malicious mischief," Wright said. "Which charge really depends on how much damage was done."
If the value of any destroyed property is less than $500, the charge is misdemeanor, which brings a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $1,200 fine. However, if the value of the destroyed property adds up to $500 or more, it draws a felony charge and up to five years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
"You would be surprised to find that $500 comes pretty quick in situations like this. Mailboxes aren''t cheap," Wright said. "Just by nature, you usually have a person or a group that goes around and destroys a lot of mailboxes in one area. If those people are caught, we add up the total value of all the property they destroyed and factor that into the charge."
Mailbox destruction also can make things difficult for the post office, as mail delivery is not possible without a U.S. Postal Service-approved mail receptacle.
If a mailbox is destroyed, the post office must hold a person''s mail at the office until the box is replaced or the resident goes to the post office to pick it up.
However, destroying a mailbox does not bring a federal offense, said Wright.
"Tampering with or stealing someone''s mail can bring a federal charge, but damaging a mailbox usually falls under state law," Wright said. "But I can assure you that if we can catch the people who have been destroying them in the county, we will prosecute them."
Meanwhile, Ward said he is hoping news of his "misfortune" will make Lowndes County residents more protective of their mailboxes.
"I just wanted to get my name out there and let folks know that this kind of thing happens pretty regularly," said Ward. "Maybe putting this information out there will keep people from doing it, because it sure is a pain to deal with.
"I think I will build my mailboxes and the posts stronger when I put them back up," Ward laughed. "I''m just tired of dealing with this."
While it may seem like a minor crime, Wright said he understands how mailbox destruction can be "very annoying" for local residents.
"I know it''s very aggravating to get up and see your mailbox destroyed for no other reason than someone just wanted to destroy someone else''s property," said Wright. "That''s why we are trying to prosecute the people who do it."