August 20, 1997 in Nation/World

Four Die In Village Rampage Property Tax Anger Festered For Years

Carey Goldberg New York Times
 

A 67-year-old gunman apparently intent on settling a grudge killed four people in a remote northern New Hampshire town on Tuesday and wounded four law-enforcement officials, the authorities said. He then led the police on a chase that ended when he was killed in a shootout with about 20 officers.

Witnesses said the man, Carl Drega, began the violence on Tuesday afternoon at a supermarket in Colebrook, N.H., a town of about 2,000 that is on the Vermont border and near Canada. Colebrook residents described Drega as militantly anti-government.

Armed with a semiautomatic weapon, Drega shot a state trooper at the supermarket, the authorities said, then killed a highway inspector in a nearby field and set off in a stolen police cruiser to the office of the local newspaper, The News and Sentinel.

The newspaper shared its building with Vickie Bunnel, a lawyer, associate judge and selectman who had angered Drega with a property tax ruling several years ago.

Bunnel had feared Drega so much since then that she had carried a handgun and kept her dog with her at the office, acquaintances said.

“Vickie’s office has huge windows that overlook the town park,” and she saw Drega coming, said Charlie Jordan, a reporter at The News and Sentinel and a friend of Bunnel. “She ran into our offices. She screamed, ‘It’s Carl! He’s got a gun! Get out!”’

But she was not fast enough to save herself. Witnesses said that even though she and others had run out the back door, Drega had shot her in the back from about 30 feet away. When a senior editor at the paper, Dennis Joos, tried to tackle Drega and pin him against a car, he was killed as well.

Drega fled in the police car, which had its windows blown out, driving into Vermont, the authorities said. At one point, he shot a state fish and game officer in the arm, apparently while breaking through a police checkpoint.

He was chased back into New Hampshire and disappeared into the woods at Stratford, the authorities said. Heavily armed officers from the Vermont and New Hampshire state police and from the Vermont fish and game agency followed him, and shortly after 7 p.m., he died in a shootout on the Vermont side of the Connecticut River.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent and two New Hampshire state troopers also were wounded in the chase. The Border Patrol agent and one of the troopers were hospitalized, but their conditions were not immediately available. The other trooper was only slightly hurt, authorities said.

In one more piece of the day’s puzzle, neighbors said that Drega’s house in Columbia, N.H., southwest of Colebrook, had burned to the ground.

Some in Colebrook speculated that he had set the fire to distract the authorities.

Until Tuesday’s incident, The News and Sentinel had been known mainly as New Hampshire’s northernmost newspaper.

Its World Wide Web site describes the population it serves, a mix of French- and English-speaking rural residents, as “fiercely independent, resourceful people.”

And it says the area is a place where doors are left unlocked and car thefts are so rare that they make the front page - “and the culprits always get caught.”


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