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City workers reclaim property

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By Linda Ireland

A reported burglary at the LaRue County Fairgrounds over the weekend has led to the recovery of numerous items belonging to the City of Hodgenville.

Police Chief Steve Johnson said he received a call late Saturday from MaDonna Hornback – fair board treasurer and former city clerk – that several items were taken from buildings at the fairgrounds. LaRue County Fair Board President – and ousted mayor of Hodgenville – Terry Cruse spoke with a city officer, Terry Grunden, about the same incident, according to Johnson.

One of the items was a Scag riding lawnmower owned by the City. Trimmers, a winch and hand tools also were taken – but the ownership of those items is unclear.

Officer Grunden is investigating the theft of those items.

Apparently, locks to both of the fairgrounds’ gates were cut by the perpetrator.

On Tuesday evening, Cruse reportedly was injured in a fall. Johnson said Cruse fell from a ladder at the fairgrounds and injured his neck. He is reportedly undergoing treatment in a Louisville hospital.

According to dispatch, no ambulance runs were made to the fairgrounds last week.

In the course of the burglary investigation on July 30, city officials gained permission from other fair board members to examine the buildings. Inside, they found several items owned by the city including another riding lawnmower, weed trimmer, police radar gun, a box grater (tractor attachment) and a popcorn machine.

Inside the office building at the fairgrounds, they found empty binders that appeared to have contained city documents, documents about the Lincoln as a Boy statue and several American flag buntings. City workers said they had looked for the buntings to decorate for the July 4 holiday, but had been unable to find them. The buntings were used to decorate the fairgrounds buildings during the LaRue County Fair.

Cruse often sent city employees to the fairgrounds to work during his tenure. Interim mayor Kenny DeVore said he had asked Cruse a couple of months ago to return any items belonging to the City.

City attorney Mary Gaines Locke had written a letter requesting the items but had not received a response.

DeVore described it as a “long laundry list of items.”

“In light of the recent break-ins we decided it was time to get the mower we knew was there,” said DeVore. “It was just time … or the rest of the stuff would disappear.”

Mayor DeVore estimated the worth of the mower that was recovered at $2,000-to-$3,000. A new grader box would cost $1,200-to-$1,500, he said.

Long-time Fair Board members Jimmie Engle and Ann “Snookie” Morrison accompanied DeVore, city officers and other employees to the fairgrounds as they searched for the equipment. Morrison declined comment about the situation. Engle said he wanted to make sure the Fairgrounds “was in the clear.”

Chief Johnson, who is vice-president of the fair board, said he wanted to get permission from other fair board members to avoid a conflict of interest.

Daniel Cruse, an employee of Hodgenville Water Works and son of Terry Cruse, was at the fairgrounds during the search, at times following the other workers inside buildings. He spoke with someone on a cell phone numerous times. His wife and child accompanied him to the site.

Morrison said Daniel Cruse is not a fair board member.

There was a discussion among fair board members and city workers about other items that were found inside one of the buildings. All declined comment to the newspaper.

Mayor DeVore said city workers were questioned about the items found. They said they had not taken them to the fairgrounds.

There is no agreement between the current city administration and the fair board for storage of the city’s equipment, DeVore said. And, the fairgrounds’ gates have been locked for several months.

City workers have been inconvenienced by the missing mowers, according to DeVore. The smaller mower – the one that was recovered Thursday – was “primarily used at the sewer plant.”

“It would have cut down on the amount of weed-eating they had to do,” he added.

City workers discovered Thursday that a single-axle trailer was missing from behind the city’s maintenance garage. It is unclear if the missing trailer is connected to the break-in at the fairgrounds.

On Thursday night, the city’s maintenance building also was broken into, according to Chief Johnson.

“They prised open the door but nothing was taken that we can find,” he said.

Prior to the break-in

Mayor DeVore said he and city council member Jim Phelps Jr. went to the go-kart track at the fairgrounds on Saturday morning – before the break-in was reported – to collect a water bill.

City council voted last month to discontinue providing free water service year-round to the fairgrounds. DeVore said he and Phelps worked out an agreement with the go-kart track volunteers for payment of a water bill in the amount of $8.25. The track will be purchasing loads of water from the City that will be stored in a tanker.

DeVore said he and Phelps looked inside some of the open storage buildings while they were at the fairgrounds. At that time, they did not see the riding mower that later was reported stolen.

Cruse was named fair board president last October. He was ousted as mayor in May after City Council heard evidence of ethics violations, nepotism and unauthorized raises. He is also under criminal indictment on several counts of abuse of public trust.

Hornback, who is treasurer of the Fair Board, also is facing felony charges of abuse of public trust from her tenure as city clerk.

Chief Johnson has been charged with warning Cruse and former city clerk MaDonna Hornback of their impending arrest after they were indicted by a grand jury. His case is being heard by a special judge and prosecutor in LaRue District Court.

Mayor DeVore said Kentucky State Police would be asked to handle the investigation of the items found at the fairgrounds.

Morrison said a special stockholder’s meeting has been scheduled at 7 p.m. Aug. 19 at the fairgrounds.

(Editor’s note: Stockholders own the property of the Greensburg Street fairgrounds. The fair board operates and oversees the annual fair and other events held on the grounds.)