PEKIN — Perhaps only in Pekin could it be legal to dump three tons of garbage onto someone else's driveway.
That’s essentially what Pekin police said this week regarding a business feud. But Tazewell County State's Attorney Stewart Umholtz is now looking at the matter for possible charges.
I have no horse (or, perhaps more apt, no horse hockey) in this nasty race. But Wednesday morning, readers pointed out to me that (regardless of interpretations by Pekin police) at least one state law seems to apply here.
I forwarded that information to Umholtz, who replied, “I have already met with the city attorney and requested that police reports be sent to me for review of criminal charges. You have correctly noted that 720 ILCS 5/47-15 clearly provides that a person cannot dump garbage on another person's property without their consent.”
That’s a reasonable law, no? You don’t want someone nonchalantly flipping a banana peel onto your property, let alone three tons of rubbish. That’s what the owner of Dragon Dumps did when a customer allegedly didn’t settle his account on time. Afterward, a Pekin police spokesperson said that neither city ordinances nor state laws apply: the dumping occurred on private property, so it “is a civil matter.”
I realize police officers don’t often investigate trash-related crimes. But anyone, even if you don't have a criminal-justice background, can use a search engine to type in words like “garbage” and “dump” and “Illinois” and “statute.” And, voila! — 720 ILCS 5/47-15 pops up. How did the officer not spot that?
“That, I don’t know,” says Deputy Chief Don Baxter. “I’m assuming the officer just missed it.”
On one hand, we’re not talking about a life-and-death crime. On the other hand, the officer was skilled enough to tiptoe through city ordinances and slap the dumped-on homeowner with a citation: harboring a trash heap. He faces a fine of up to $500 if it’s not removed by Sept. 15.
The homeowner, Ed Tarpley, says he is glad to hear about a deeper investigation.
"It's welcome," he says. " It's appalling, what's been happening."
He says he hopes the investigation will show that he got targeted by mistake, as part of a billing feud between his son Chad Tarpley and Dragon Dumps.
"I'm the brunt of a joke," Ed Tarpley says. "And it's not funny."
Meanwhile, in addition to state law, I wonder if maybe city ordinances might apply as well.
Pekin’s code on “nuisance and general health regulations” states, “No person shall throw or deposit litter on any private premises within the city, whether owned by such person or not, except in authorized, private receptacles for collection.” A driveway is not such a receptacle. And litter includes “‘garbage’ or ‘refuse’ and ‘rubbish’” — which are defined to be just what you’d think: the junk you typically thrown away. I’ll let the state’s attorney dig through that to see if any ordinances could be applicable.
To be clear, I’m not out to pile on (get it?) Drew Vice, who owns Dragon Dumps. But readers have concerns about the garbage laws. And, as I told him, I'm fascinated by his unusual tactic of vigilante dumping.
Plus, a state dumping charge would be no high crime; it's a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by six months in jail and $500, though the count is probationable. However, the worst part could be the requirement to cover costs of cleanup, if convicted.
In light of the state’s attorney’s new interest in the case, Vice didn’t want to talk too much. Still, I asked if he regretted the dumping.
“I don’t know how to answer that,” says Vice, who also is a Pekin firefighter. “I’ve had a lot of support.”
That’s very true. On social media, many commenters lauded his out-of-the-box approach to debt collection, a first for Vice. Still, he doesn’t plan on making it a standard business practice.
“No,” he said with a slight chuckle, “not after this.”
PHIL LUCIANO is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/philluciano and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Twitter.com/LucianoPhil.