Zachary Jacobs. Matthew Leslie Smith. James Joseph Rumph (the fourth). All 17. Each now facing felony charges for allegedly rampaging through Palm Coast’s F Section early Sunday morning, begging one question: what the hell were they thinking?
As the three Palm Coast residents described it to police, they were on a “grinching” expedition. That’s their term for the vandalism they unleashed on Christmas ornaments, mailboxes, one manger scene and one car’s rear window, which one of them smashed with a baseball bat, ostensibly because the boy was upset over a previous encounter with the homeowner, and something about a girl.
Most of the homeowners whose properties were targeted chose not to press charges. They were fine with the boys paying for the damage they’d caused. But three residents decided to press charges: Dale Roane of 52 Filbert Lane, Gary Trainor of 70 Fort Caroline Lane and Michael Mitchell of 77 Forest Hill Lane. That means the boys could end up with a record, though they could also have their charges mediated to a civil citation (a successful program in the juvenile justice system that lets first-time non-violent offenders avoid a record and, essentially, atone.)
For the Flagler County Sheriff’s office, the consequences of the incidents of early Sunday began to unfold before a deputy’s eyes and ears as he went around the F Section Monday, first to respond to one complaint, then to be flagged down by other property owners and hear from dispatchers that more and more calls about the vandalism were coming in.
For the deputy—Craig Rossi—the unraveling began with Roane, who reported that sometime overnight two large “Merry Christmas” signs were taken from his residence. Both had been hanging from the roof with hooks. Just five days earlier Roane’s car had been the subject of a larceny. Two juveniles had entered the unlocked car. (They were later identified.)
While searching for the lost decorations, the deputy was flagged down by a resident at 119 Fort Caroline Lane, who’d located an uninvited white reindeer yard ornament in her swale. The reindeer was damaged. The reindeer’s owner was were on Foster Lane, and said the reindeer would cost $100 to replace—and that a wired set of $50 candy canes were also stolen.
Next it was 70 Fort Caroline Lane, where 4-foot-tall candle ornaments, valued at $100, were stolen, after being cut from the zip ties that had secured them to the house’s columns.
At 77 Forest Hill Drive, the damage was more serious. The rear window of a 2011 Chevrolet Malibu, a company car belonging to Hartford Insurance, had been smashed in, also damaging the rear panel of the car. Combined damage: $1,000. The resident at the address, Michael Mitchell, 46, said his son believed the attack was in retaliation for a confrontation that had taken place at the house in mid-November, when four teen-agers had driven to the house in an attempt to fight Mitchell’s son, according to a police report. The disagreement was apparently over a girl.
And on went the discoveries, going from damaged or stolen Christmas decorations to damaged mailboxes: somebody had been playing baseball with them.
Then Rossi (the deputy), along with Deputy Paul Simoes, went to 42 Federal Lane, the home of one of the three accused boys (Matthew Smith), and there, in plain sight, resting against a side wall of the house, were all sorts of Christmas ornaments. Many of the same ornaments that had been reported stolen, along with a half dozen cheap, domestic beer cans in the front yard.
Two of the three accused boys were at the house: Smith and Rumph, the latter a resident of 98 Brushwood Drive. As they told it to the deputies, Zachary Jacobs (who lives at 20 Big Bear Lane) had originally called them to propose going “grinching.” Jacobs picked them up in his Toyota Camry (red, ironically), and the trio went around the F Section, acting like Santa’s anti-hero.
From there, Deputy Rossi went to Big Bear Lane, and saw the Toyota parked in the driveway at Number 20. Rossi didn’t need a warrant to uncover what he did, since it was in plain sight: “I could see in plain sight,” Rossi wrote in his report, “that the front passenger seat cover was lightly covered in red sparkle flakes. There was also a large red Christmas bow on the front passenger floorboard and another random gift ornament wedged on between the front passenger seat and the door.” Jacobs’s mother allowed the deputy to speak with her son, who heard his Miranda rights and described how the “grinching” unfolded.
Jacobs, according to what he told the deputy, at one point on Forest Hill Drive parked the car a few doors down from Number 77, saw Smith taking a baseball bat from the trunk of the car, then “brag” about the damage Smith allegedly caused to the rear window of the car there. After that, Smith used the bat to damage several mailboxes as the car drove along. “Zachary had been walking behind Matt and James as they began smashing several mailboxes with bats,” the report states. By then they had a second bat in hand. They disposed of both in the woods. Deputies retrieved both. (An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Jacobs had smashed the rear window of the car.)
After their arrests and booking at the Flagler County jail, Rumph and Jacobs were released to their parents’ custody, pending further court proceedings. Smith was taken to a youth jail in Volusia—the Volusia Regional Juvenile Detention Center—where he spent the night, with a court appearance Monday.
The charges they face: felony grand theft from a dwelling, criminal mischief and felony criminal mischief.