By Patsy Breakey
Delhi News Bureau
On the opening day of big-game hunting season, a group of unidentified "hunters" bagged a 500-pound black bear in the village of Walton.
The 7-foot tall wooden bruin was taken during the night from its den at the entrance to the Walton Hardware & Variety Store on Bridge Street.
Melissa Stanton said she was on her way to open the store last Saturday morning when she noticed wood splinters and chips scattered in the parking lot. She said she looked up and realized that the bear wasn't there.
The bear was carved by Fred Avila and has been greeting customers for about two years, Stanton said.
The Walton Police Department took a disc from the security cameras that scan the parking lot 24 hours a day, but have not yet been able to determine who nabbed the bear.
Stanton said she immediately contacted Avila, who displays and sells his carved bears next to the Country Store in Walton, so he could check on the rest of his products, but all were safe.
Stanton said the value of the bear makes the crime grand larceny. She said based on the size and weight of the statue, it must have taken three or four people to lift it into a vehicle.
"I can't believe anyone took the chance, because the Walton police and all the other area police cars drive by here constantly," Stanton said.
Anyone with information about the location of the bear, which stands fully erect with its front legs lifted in the air, is asked to contact the Walton police at 865-5400.
Covering and reporting on arraignments in county court can often be a very frustrating mission. Very few questions are answered in the court documents that are available to the public, and often the only clues to the "rest of the story" have to be gleaned from arguments in court about setting bail or overheard snatches of conversation.
The arraignments were quick and uninformative when Donald J. Aitken, 22, of East Meredith, and Cody D. Fancher, 17, of Bloomville, appeared in Delaware County Court on Monday.
Sometimes the best background information comes from outside sources that are familiar with the person involved in the cases. That is how some interesting information about Aitken, who is charged in connection with a series of arson fires, came to light.
Roger Hamilton, a volunteer firefighter with the Meridale Fire Department, and who formerly employed "D.J." Aitken, filled in some of the blanks. Hamilton also serves on the Meredith Town Board as a councilman and is a well-known area farmer.
Hamilton said Aitken is a member of the Meridale Fire Department, serving with his father, Donald Aitken, who is the chief of the department.
"D.J. responded to fires all summer and helped fight some of the fires he is now accused of setting," Hamilton said.
On Oct. 8, Delaware County Undersheriff Douglas Vredenburgh said the arson fire at the Sidney Center United Methodist Church was started with gasoline taken by two men during a break-in that morning at the town of Meredith highway garage.
"Self-gratification" was the motive for the fires, Vredenburgh said.
Hamilton said during the past year, unexplained charges for small amounts of gasoline had been showing up on the Meridale Fire Department's credit card. He also said that a gas can belonging to the fire department was found at the scene of one of the fires.
Based on comments posted at the bottom of some of The Daily Star stories about D.J. Aitken's arrest, there may still be other interesting pieces of background information yet to be learned about the fires and the motivation behind them.