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Damage assessed in Cecil County

RISING SUN — Cecil County was part of a larger assessment Monday of the damage wrought by the remains of Hurricane Ida in Maryland earlier this month.

Mary Ann Tierney, Region 3 Administrator for Federal Emergency Management Agency, said areas including Rising Sun and Elkton were toured to get a look at the impact of the high winds and heavy rain.

“We rely on local officials to direct us,” Tierney said Tuesday.

She said this guided tour included officials from Maryland Emergency Management Agency and Small Business Administration. Among them was Michelle Lloyd, Deputy Emergency Manager for Cecil County Department of Emergency Services.

“Some were surprised by the water levels,” LLoyd said of her conversations with those affected.

Tropical Storm Ida dropped more than 6 inches of rain in some areas of the county resulting in flash flooding in all the expected locations such as East Main Street in Rising Sun, Delaware Avenue, Howard and Bridge Streets in Elkton and at Rising Sun’s Veteran’s and Triangle Parks.

Some of the worst flooding in Rising Sun was in the Sun Valley Mobile Home Park off Walnut Street next door to Triangle Park.

“We heard a noise outside,” said Sharon Edwards, a resident of the park.

She watched as the water quickly rose into the home she shares with William Hammond.

“It was waist high,” Edwards said. “It totaled my car.”

Hammond’s car was also deluged. It still runs, taking the couple to and from a local hotel that is now home. However he said all the lights on the dash are illuminated.

Hammond has lived in Sun Valley more than 20 years. He bought a newer home several years ago and had recently replaced the living room floor with parquet tiles.

“It’s all warped now,” Hammond said.

He said the owner of the home across the road from his had just about finished repairs when he was told to stop so the damage could be assessed.

Hammond, who did not have flood insurance, said this was the worst he’s seen in the small community of homes. All the homes in Sun Valley were affected, and many have been deemed uninhabitable.

Calvin Bonenberger, Rising Sun town administrator, estimates the damage to the town is more than $2 million. It’s too early to say how much the county has spent in response, Lloyd said.

“All I could offer is a ballpark figure,” she said.

MEMA is now analyzing all the data gleaned Monday and will make a report to Gov. Larry Hogan.

If Hogan decides the damage — including a tornado that touched down in the Annapolis area — warrants a disaster declaration he has until the end of the month, Tierney said.

“The request must be made within 30 days,” she said, adding that a local state of emergency declared by Cecil County Executive Danielle Hornberger made Sept. 3 supports that plan.

“The local emergency declaration is not required but it definitely indicates something has happened,” Tierney said.

Factors include the amount of damage, the history of such events and the trauma it has caused.

“We look at the number of destroyed homes, the numbers with major damage, were there any deaths or injury, and the potential for insurance recovery,” Tierney said.

The request from Hogan then goes to Pres. Joe Biden for a federal declaration, which will trigger financial assistance.

FEMA has three programs to help in recovery efforts.

“Individual assistance is for households to repair or replace. Public assistance goes to state and municipal governments and some non-profit organizations for recovery costs and repairs to infrastructure,” she said. The third is the Hazardous Mitigation Grant Program that builds certain infrastructure better to withstand future events.

The SBA, while its primary focus is small business, has a role in disaster recovery, offering low interest loans to homeowners.

“They’re an important program in our system,” Tierney said.

Kevin Alkinburg, spokesman for Cecil County government, said the county state of emergency would remain in effect until all the displaced residents are in stable housing.

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Community Fire Company of Rising Sun to celebrate 100 years

RISING SUN — Plans are still being finalized and the search is on for people and organizations to participate in the centennial celebration of the Community Fire Company of Rising Sun.

Tammy Wiggins, one of the organizers of the 100th Anniversary, said the list is growing for units in the parade, which will move through Rising Sun and finish at the fire company on Joseph Biggs Highway.

Anyone who would like to be part of the parade needs to send an email to Steve Piatelli; spiatelli@yahoo.com.

However that’s just the beginning.

“The parade starts at 10 a.m. And then around 12:30 is the ceremony,” said Kim Roland, another organizer.

Ray Ryan, a member of the Community Fire Company of Perryville, will act as master of ceremonies for the ceremony, which will include proclamations, presentations and speeches.

Roland said afterward, it will be party time with free food, a DJ, music from the band “Howz My Hat” and activities and raffles.

“We’ll have activities for the kids including a bounce house and face painting and we’ll be selling commemorative T-shirts, cups and challenge coins,” she said.

If you look closely at any of the vehicles used by the fire company you’ll see the words “Born of Ashes” and the year 1921. One hundred years ago there was a fire in downtown Rising Sun that destroyed Janes United Methodist Church, the Alger Firestone store and the home and attached business of Scott Wilson & Sons. That June 13 fire was started while pumping fuel from a tank truck to storage tanks at the Firestone store.

At that time there was no established fire service of any kind in the growing community. Authentic fire equipment came to the fire scene via railroad from Wilmington and from Port Deposit, Elkton, Oxford, West Grove, Perry Point, Havre de Grace, Kennett Square and Newark. All those hands were needed because the town’s water pressure and mismatched hydrants stymied firefighters.

According to a newspaper called Midland Journal, Oxford firefighters got connected and got one stream of water pointed at the blaze. Singerly volunteers found something to make it work in their toolbox and got another stream of water going. Other fire companies drew water from the race at what is now known as Keppel’s Mill Court.

In the 1971 program for its 50th anniversary, the late Bill McNamee, noted Rising Sun historian, wrote that “while the town was still smoking Dr. R.C. Dodson addressed a meeting ... that this tragic loss Rising Sun has suffered today should certainly make us all realize that out hand-pulled two-wheeled fire apparatus is woefully out of date.”

Dodson referred to the rudimentary human powered vehicle carrying a tank about the size of a home heating oil tank, which was the only source of fire protection.

Community leaders never wanted to see that kind of destruction in Rising Sun again so the Community Fire Company of Rising Sun was established. Dodson was its first president. By-laws were approved by the end of the month and by October the first fire engine — an American LaFrance Type 38, arrived. The firehouse had yet to be built so it was stored in a local garage. By February 1922 there was a firehouse, purchased from Mr. E. R. Buffington for $6,500. The fire company allowed the Methodist congregation to continue to use the building for worship while the new church was being built.

By 1964 the decision was made that — even though additions had been made to the fire house — it was still too small for the Community Fire Company of Rising Sun. By that time ambulance service had been added. Funded entirely by the community, the old building was demolished and a new six-bay single story fire house was built complete with a commercial kitchen and dining hall. (Today that is the home of R.T. Foard Funeral Home)

Although no government funds were given to the fire company for the project, McNamee noted in his historical account in 1971 that “the dedication was a bit extraordinary too, since it was the only time in our memory when the Governor of our State of Maryland (Marvin Mandel) ever honored us with his presence and a most complimentary address.”

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Cecil County rape suspect now charged with soliciting sex from minor

ELKTON — A new criminal case has been filed against a convicted sex offender who, while on probation, allegedly raped a 12-year-old girl near Elkton last month — after befriending her on social media — and then made attempts to bribe and threaten the youngster to drop the charges against him, according to Cecil County District Court records.

This latest criminal case against the suspect, Shane Thomas Gustafson, 24, of the 200 block of Plum Point Road near Elkton, marks the third one filed against him in Cecil County in a 15-day period, with the first relating to his alleged rape of that girl and the second connected to his alleged intimidation of her after he was charged and jailed.

The newest criminal case against Gustafson involves a different alleged victim — who also is 12 years old and lives in Cecil County, too, police confirmed on Tuesday. Court records indicate that it also involves Gustafson’s purported use of social media to contact the alleged victim.

Gustafson allegedly sent the girl a social media message that “detailed several sexually explicit things (he) wanted to do to her,” according to charging documents relating to the latest criminal case against him. Gustafson also stands accused of sending the girl snippets of video showing a woman “fully nude and visibly intoxicated” lying across the floor of a vehicle and on the floor of a shower, police reported.

Court records indicate that the images and messages were sent on SnapChat and that the account belonged to a woman, who, according to the alleged victim, is a friend of hers. The alleged victim told investigators that she knew the woman was dating someone named “Shane,” court records show.

“The video of (the woman) in the shower had a caption written over it that read, ‘I’m naked too, but you don’t get to see me unless we’re (expletive),” court records allege.

Then the girl received a message from the same account that specified several sexually explicit things that “Shane” wanted to do her, according to charging documents.

“(The girl) became very upset about the messages and reported them to her mother, who, in turn, contacted the Cecil County Sheriff’s Office,” court records show.

CCSO detectives went to the alleged victim’s home on July 4, one day after the girl received the images and messages, and started their investigation, police said. The girl’s mother told investigators that she had confronted Gustafson, police added.

“When she confronted him via text message, she received the following response. ‘This is Shane I am terribly sorry I was being dumb last night I would not do anything with your daughter I apologize I was only sending her stuff on (the woman) on Snapchat playing around, I would never touch (the girl),” court records allege.

During an interview with a CCSO detective on Aug. 24 — the same day that investigators arrested and charged Gustafson in the unrelated rape case — Gustafson acknowledged that he had contacted the girl on the night of July 3, police said. Gustafson maintained his innocence, however, while explaining the circumstances surrounding those contacts, police added.

“The defendant admitted to contacting (the girl) utilizing (the woman’s) phone, but denied knowing what the content of the messages were. He also admitted to controlling (the woman’s) phone and ‘documented her intoxication’ because she would not believe him the next day. When asked how the videos were sent to (the girl), he indicated he believed ‘their phones were linked,’ but that he had not intention of doing anything with (the girl),” court records allege.

Arrested on Thursday at the Cecil County Detention Center, where he has been held on no bond since his Aug. 24 arrest in the unrelated rape case, Gustafson is charged with sexual solicitation of a minor, which is a felony that is punishable by up to 10 years in prison if convicted, and four misdemeanors, including displaying obscene material to a minor, court records show.

It is the third criminal case filed against Gustafson since late August.

The rape case

As for the first one, the investigation that led to the unrelated rape case against Gustafson started on Aug. 19, when CCSO Det. Chase Armington interviewed the alleged victim after the girl had come forward and after he had, in turn, received a referral from the Cecil County Department of Social Services regarding the “sexual abuse of minor,” police reported.

The girl told the investigator that she met a man named “Shane” on Aug. 2 on SnapChat, a social media platform, and started communicating with him, police said. During the social media conversation, that man named Shane — later identified by investigators as Gustafson — allegedly sent the girl photographs of his penis and asked her to send him nude pictures of her, police added.

After the girl confided in Gustafson that she was “having a bad day and needed a friend,” they made plans to meet to discuss her day, police reported.

At approximately 11 p.m. on Aug. 2, Gustafson drove an older model, white Ford pickup truck with an extended cab to the girl’s home and parked across the street from her residence, according to charging documents. The girl walked out of her house and got into the truck, which Gustafson then drove to Dixie Line Road near Elkton, a short distance from the Delaware state line, court records allege.

After pulling off that road, Gustafson allegedly started touching the girl’s body inside the truck while “saying sexual things to her,” police said. The girl told investigators that she told Gustafson “no” several times, police added.

Gustafson then pushed the girl onto her back, removed her shorts and underwear, and raped her, according to charging documents, which further allege that he slapped and choked the girl during the assault. The suspect also forced the girl to perform fellatio on him, court records allege.

After the alleged sexual assault, which, according to the girl, lasted approximately 45 minutes, Gustafson purportedly drove to the Royal Farms store in the 1100 block of East Pulaski Highway near Elkton to purchase a drink — before driving the girl to her home and dropping her off, police reported.

During his investigation, Armington watched video gleaned from a surveillance camera at that Royal Farms — and it shows a Ford pickup truck pull into the parking lot near the fuel pumps at 12:13 a.m. on Aug. 3, about 75 minutes after Gustafson allegedly had picked up the girl at her home, court records allege.

“The time, description of the truck and the description of ‘Shane’ matched the information (the girl) provided,” Armington notes in his written statement of probable cause.

The investigator learned that Gustafson was convicted of corruption of a minor in 2019 in Pennsylvania, court records show.

“It appears that Mr. Gustafson was convicted and placed on probation on Aug. 3, 2020, and is currently on probation. The conviction requires Gustafson to register as a convicted sex offender in the State of Maryland,” according to court records.

Investigators arrested Gustafson on Aug. 24 at the Cecil County Sheriff’s Office, police said. Armington approached Gustafson, who was there to “satisfy his (sex offender) registry requirements” relating to his Pennsylvania corruption-of-a-minor conviction, police added.

After his arrest, Gustafson made a confession to CCSO investigators during a police interview in the wake of waiving his Miranda right to remain silent, according to charging documents.

“Mr. Gustafson admitted to having sexual intercourse with (the girl). He admitted knowing that (the girl) was 12 years old, and he later apologized to (the girl) for the assault,” according to charging documents.

Gustafson is charged with first-degree rape, second-degree rape, third-degree sex offense, perverted practice and second-degree assault in that case, according to court records.

The intimidation case

The investigation that led to the second criminal case filed against Gustafson involved the monitoring of his phone calls at the Cecil County Detention Center after his arrest and pre-trial incarceration in the rape case.

CCSO detectives also charged Gustafson’s alleged accomplice in the victim intimidation case, Nola Rae Ratledge, 18, of the unit block of Plum Creek Road near North East, court records show.

In that second criminal case, Gustafson is charged with threatening harm to induce or influence a victim to falsely testify or to withhold testimony and with solicitation of a person to threaten harm to induce or influence a victim to falsely testify or to withhold testimony, court records show. Each of those felony charges is punishable by up to 20 years in prison if convicted, according to court records.

Gustafson also is charged with two related offenses, both of which carry maximum 10-year sentences if convicted, and one count of obstruction of justice, which is punishable by up to five years in prison, court records show.

Ratledge is facing four criminal charges, including obstruction of justice and the two felonies that are punishable by up to 20 years in prison if convicted, according to court records. Free on personal recognizance after her arrest on Thursday, Ratledge is scheduled for a Sept. 29 preliminary hearing, court records show.

Charging documents reference an Aug. 25 phone call, which was monitored at the jail, and the alleged conspiracy that occurred during the conversation between Gustafson and Ratledge.

“At one point, Gustafson tells Ratledge to advise the juvenile (rape) victim that he will give her ‘one thousand dollars’ to drop the charges and that he would hand over his vehicle to Ratledge,” court records allege.

Similar phone conversations between Gustafson and Ratledge were monitored at the jail after that one, police reported.

“Gustafson conspires with Ratledge to get another party and her ‘whole family’ involved to threaten the victim if she did not drop the charges. Initially, Ratledge is hesitant to cooperate, even after Gustafson pleads with her during multiple calls to reach out to the victim,” court records allege.

Charging documents also summarize a monitored phone conversation between Gustafson and Ratledge on Aug. 31.

“A phone call between Gustafson and Ratledge confirms that Ratledge reached out to the victim via text,” court records allege.

In another monitored phone call, Ratledge “admits to contacting the victim’s sister,” according to charging documents.

Businesses, organizations and students were celebrated last week by Cecil County Executive Danielle Hornberger for their efforts to recycle. Pictured with their awards are Sandy Wirth and Students of West Nottingham Academy, Michele Buckley-Ghione (front) and Phil Ghione (behind) of MPK Services, Marty Imperiand and Doug Riden of Elkton Recyclers Inc. and Chesapeake City Councilman Frank Vari.

Head Coach Bill Russell and members of the 2000 Golden Elks team hold the Class 1A State Championship trophy, capping off their undefeated season with a title. Russell and several of his players were honored at Elkton’s home opener on Friday.

On Saturday, Sep. 11, firefighters, first responders and citizens of the community came to the North East Fire Company to pay tribute to those who died on Sep. 11, 2001.