Who, age What Where When Last Known Address
Andrew M. Campbell Killing a federally protected crane; stabbing a guinea hen but her terrified chicks were lost

Bedford, NH

Hillsborough County

August 26, 2001  
Alexander Lakos Killing a federally protected crane; stabbing a guinea hen but her terrified chicks were lost

Bedford, NH

Hillsborough County

August 26, 2001  
Type of Crime Other Crimes #/Type of animal(s) involved Case Status Next Court Date /Courthouse
Felony criminal mischief, trespassing 1 crane; 1 guinea hen and her chicks Convicted  

Campbell age 18 of 27 Swan Ave., was charged with a felony animal cruelty, criminal mischief, criminal trespass and conduct after an accident. Bail was set at $1000 cash and he was released to the custody of his mother at his hearing in Merrimack, District Court on August 27th.

The charges are a Class B felony because the nature of the attack was unnecessary and unprovoked. Lakos and Campbell's charges of animal cruelty and criminal mischief would have been a misdemeanor but because the damages are each over $1,000 and the crane is federally protected the charges were upgraded. The crane is being kept frozen in the event it is needed during court proceedings.

Campbell returned to court on September 19th (case #012823) and was given a deferred sentence and fined $960 as long as he remains on good behavior. His case is now in the hands of the Hillsborough Superior Court Grand Jury.

Lakos age 18 of 17 Stephanie Dr., was arrested 12 days after Campbell and pleaded not guilty to criminal trespass and entered no pleas to felony charges of cruelty to animals and criminal trespass, a misdemeanor. He was released on $20,000 personal recognizance bail pending a probably cause hearing scheduled inn Merrimack District Court on October 10th. Judge Gregory Michael ordered Lakos to have no contact with the victim and stay within 200 yards of his property, and have no contact with co-defendant Campbell. The judge further warned Lakos that any bail violations, including use of drugs, carrying firearms or traveling outside of New Hampshire would not be in his best interest. Lakos was arrested by Bedford Officer Sean Kilbreth who spotted Lakos at Dunkin Donuts at 9:50am on his way to school.

John and Elise Vratsenes discovered their sand hill crane bloodied and beaten to death inside the their private bird sanctuary on Sunday August 26th, 2001. The crane is a rare and federally protected. Federal charges may also be filed as well as a civil suit.

The Vratsenes sanctuary is a 300 x 300 foot-fenced enclosure, which houses about 70 birds. The Crane (one of 2) has been in the sanctuary since 1994. The value of the crane is estimated to be $1,250. Their sanctuary is filled with more than 60 birds, including several peacocks. Vratsenes may also file civil charges once the criminal charges have been settled. It took John and Elsie Vratsenes 9 months to have the completed paperwork approved by the NH Fish and Game Dept. to be the caretakers for the pair of sand hill cranes.

Police believe Campbell and Lakos climbed a small tree, just outside the sanctuary's 8-foot fence, broke a rake and bludgeoned the crane with the rake handle. Police found the suspects after receiving a report that two mailboxes had been smashed along Gage Rd., near where the crane was killed. Police found a license plate from the car, which they connected to Campbell.

The Bedford police would not say which of the 2 teenagers was responsible for the killing, but the Campbell complaint states only that Campbell "did knowingly aid another by transporting him…" while the Lakos complaint alleges that Lakos "did purposely beat an animal…"

John Vratsenes hopes the boys are punished to the full extent of the law. "If you can kill a 15 lb. bird, I guess you can hurt a 30 lb. child, too. Vratsenes states that the remaining crane (cranes mate for life) seems to be slowly getting back to her normal routine. "She still goes to the corner where the other one was killed and just sits there, but she's doing more running, more trying to fly around. She's been more playful over the last week". In captivity, it is not unusual for the sand hill crane to live to 96 years old. The crane that was killed was about 7-8 years old.

All the birds, mute swans, blue peacocks, white peacocks, golden pheasants and Himalayan monats are scared. "They're walking around in the back, away from visitors to the site stated Vratsenes in an interview with the Manchester Union Leader on 8/27/01.

Update 09/19/01:The case has now gone to Federal Court because the crane was part of a wildlife sanctuary and federally protected.

Merrimack District Court released Lakos on $20,000 bail, he is to have no contact with the owner of the sanctuary or the co-defendant, and is to remain within 200 feet of his property.  The case has been turned over to Federal Court.

Update 10/25/01: The 2 Bedford teenagers have been indicted on 2 Class B felonies, animal cruelty and criminal mischief by a Hillsborough County Superior Court Grand Jury for animal cruelty for beating a sand hill crane to death with a rake. Both entered not guilty pleas and are scheduled for trial in Superior Court on March 4, 2002.

Update 03/07/02:  Campbell filed a motion in Hillsborough County Superior Court of intent to plead guilty to one of the 5 charges.  He is scheduled to appear at a plea/sentencing hearing on March 25, 2002, his 19th birthday.

Lakos is scheduled to appear in court for jury selection on April 29, 2002.

Update 05/01/02: Lakos has plead guilty and will be sentenced June 12.

The silver-feathered male crane with a bright red forehead was one of approximately 70 exotic birds, including ducks, geese, pheasants and peacocks, kept by John and Elsie Vratsenes.

The killing of the male left its eight-year-old mate alone for the remainder of her life, the owners said, because a new male from the wild would probably kill the hand-raised female.

"It was a sad day when the male crane was curled up on the ground and the female was there guarding him," said Mrs. Vratsenes. "She's going to have to be alone for the rest of her life."

John Vratsenes said sandhill cranes live for 70 to 80 years and, for that reason, anyone who keeps them must provide for them in a will so they will go to a zoo or safe place in the event they outlive their owners.

John Vratsenes said the female stood by her dead mate for several hours until it was taken away, and when he let her out last week for the first time this spring she went looking for him in the corner where she saw him last. "It's unreal," he said.

Vratsenes said the birds, called "dancing cranes," can leap as high as eight feet and they loved to jump and play, to the delight of the many passersby who would stop their cars to watch them.

Mrs. Vratsenes said she was uneasy that the boy who committed the crime won't be going to jail. One night in a cell might have been a learning experience, she said.

"We hope that he learned his lesson and hope he knows right from wrong now," she said, adding that she felt some doubt.

Campbell made a "punky" face at her as he walked out of the courtroom and he appeared to be laughing on his way out of the building, she said.

John Vratsenes said a guinea hen was also stabbed, but survived, however her terrified chicks fled through the fence and were lost.

Campbell was sentenced to 12 months in the house of correction, suspended for two years during good behavior, for animal cruelty. He will be on probation to the Manchester Community Corrections program for two years and must provide 100 hours of community service. He is also to pay restitution of $1,200 for the crane and must stay 100 yards away from the Vratsenes home.

He received a similar 12-month sentence, which runs consecutive to the animal cruelty sentence, for criminal mischief for damaging the sanctuary fence. A third, suspended 12-month sentence was imposed on three misdemeanors: criminal trespass, criminal mischief and conduct after an accident. Vratsenes said the youths were caught because they ran over two mailboxes with their car and a neighbor found their license plate on the ground.

Update 06/12/02: A Bedford youth will go to jail for 45 days for killing a Sandhill crane last summer.

Lakos admitted in Hillsborough County Superior Court he killed the crane.

With good behavior, Lakos could end up serving only 30 days on the misdemeanor animal cruelty count.

"He got away cheap," John Vratsenes, the bird's owner, said after the sentencing. "Thirty days are going to go by for him, but the bird's never going to come back."

On the witness stand, Vratsenes wiped away tears as he told the judge about finding his pet crumpled and bloodied in the corner of his pen.

The Bedford youths, according to Assistant Hillsborough County Jennifer Sandoval, were drinking heavily August 26, 2001, and had been riding around Bedford in Campbell's Jeep, running down mailboxes.

Sandoval said the boys decided to climb the chain-link enclosure at Vratsenes' home intending to pull out feathers to hear the birds squawk.

Lakos' attorney Ray Raimo said his client did not intentionally kill the bird. He said as Lakos was about to leave the enclosure he turned around to see the crane behind him and was spooked. Raimo said Lakos, believing the bird was attacking, struck out with the rake handle and heard a "sickening sound." The bird's neck was broken and the bird was dead, he said.

Sandoval said the bird was beaten "repeatedly."

Vratsenes said "It was stabbed to death. It was no accident."

Lakos had been indicted for a class B felony count of animal cruelty, but he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor animal cruelty.

The state had asked for a maximum sentence of one year in the House of Corrections. But Raimo urged the judge not to put the young man, who got drunk and was "acting stupid," in jail where he would "sit and watch TV and hang out with criminals" for several months.

Judge David B. Sullivan imposed a 12-month sentence with all but 45 days suspended for animal cruelty. In addition, he sentenced Lakos to 12 months, suspended, for criminal mischief for damaging the bird sanctuary fence. He cautioned Lakos that he could end up spending two years in jail if he violates any of the terms of the sentence, one of which is that he has to attend college. "You have to go back to school as a full-time student," Sullivan said.

Raimo had said Lakos completed one semester at Southern New Hampshire University, but quit to earn money to pay restitution and his legal bills.

Lakos' sentence requires him to pay $2,250 in restitution and do 150 hours of community service. He will begin serving the jail sentence July 1.

Lakos was also told if he drinks alcohol or use drugs he risks violating his probation.

Reference:

The Bedford Bulletin The Merrimack Journal
The Manchester Union Leader The Merrimack District Court
The Concord Monitor