The all-night line cook at the local Denny’s faced down the media here Tuesday and denied spiking the eggs of two Vermont state troopers with Tabasco sauce.
Michael A. Towne, 20, faces two counts of assault for the meal, a misdemeanor that could land him in jail, plus a $2,000 fine. But the charges have also propelled him into celebrity, the subject of television coverage and at least two legal defense funds - one by Chile Pepper magazine.
On Tuesday, Towne exercised an ultimate Hollywood perogative, holding a press conference in which he did not actually speak.
Instead his lawyer, R. Peter Decato, said that his client is innocent.
“Mike has lost his job at Denny’s and has become a national media darling,” Decato also observed.
The trouble began about 3 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7 when two Vermont state troopers, Timothy Clouatre and Michael Manning crossed into West Lebanon from Vermont to have their lunch at Denny’s Restaurant on Route 12A.
Each man, in uniform, ordered the “Moons over Hammy,” a $4.95 sandwich containing two slices of bread, two types of cheese, ham and eggs.
Towne cooked the meals and, because the waitress was busy at the cash register, the officers served themselves.
Neither Manning nor Clouatre would comment, citing the continuing investigation. But according to a police affidavit they told investigators:
“As a result of the unwanted Tabasco sauce on the food, Manny suffered a mouth irritation and burning while he was eating.
Clouatre experienced this also but had heartburn and an upset stomach for the day following the incident … both felt they were targeted due to their occupations as police officers.”
One of the officers said he heard snickering from a nearby booth where Towne and other employees were sitting.
After the troopers complained to Towne, they were offered a free meal. Instead they drove to the Lebanon police station, where they swore out a complaint.
A trial is set for June 6 before District Court Judge Albert Cirone, but Decato said he would file a motion to dismiss the charges next week. He said the evidence is missing. “The officers ate the evidence,” he said “even after deciding the eggs were spiked.”