Archive for Thursday, July 8, 2004

Couple arrested for attempt on mayor

July 8, 2004

Edwardsville

Police arrested an Edwardsville couple Thursday for attempted first-degree murder after they allegedly mailed poisoned treats to the home of Edwardsville Mayor Stephanie Eickhoff.

Wyandotte County District Attorney Nick A. Tomasic filed charges Thursday morning against Donna Ozuna-Trout, 47, and Ralph Trout, 57. Edwardsville police arrested Trout as he came home from work about 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Ozuna-Trout was arrested as she came home about 10 minutes later. Both were released later on $50,000 bond apiece.

Ozuna-Trout and her husband live across 94th Street from the mayor's home, and their arrest Thursday was the latest round in a bitter struggle that goes back two years or more.

The chain of events leading to the couple's arrest began April 21 when James Eickhoff, the mayor's husband, arrived home to change clothes for work after the family had spent the night at the Great Wolf Lodge to celebrate two of their children's birthdays.

On the front porch, the mayor said, he found that the postal service had delivered a box, addressed to "James and Stephanie Eickhoff and children." He carried the package inside the house, placed it on a kitchen counter and opened it.

Inside was a card that said, "With congratulations and best of wishes to you on your mayor's term." The package had a Lenexa return address and purported to be from someone she'd never heard of, the mayor said. Once James Eickhoff, a lieutenant in the Wyandotte County Sheriff's Department, opened the package he thought it didn't look right, the mayor said. He called the mayor and suggested she call police.

Stephanie Eickhoff called the Edwardsville police. She dropped her children off at school and arrived home a few minutes later to meet police.

As described by the mayor in an interview Friday, the package contained some cookies, a cake similar to a coffee cake and a two-liter bottle that purported to be root beer. However, Eickhoff said, the bottle's seal had been broken and the contents were not the normal color of root beer but instead were green. The baked goods didn't look right either, she recalled.

"They either looked like they'd had a very rough mailing experience or somebody had done something to them," she said.

Police took the package and sent it and its contents to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation labs for testing. The mayor and her husband left their home and began an ordeal that lasted about six weeks of staying with friends and family members. They stayed in separate homes so the entire family was seldom together, Eickhoff said.

Although there had been no resolution, the family returned home about two weeks ago, Eickhoff said.

"I just decided that if somebody wanted to murder me and my kids, they'd have to do it on my own turf," she said.

Eickhoff was clearly frustrated with the amount of time that elapsed between the delivery of the package and the couple's arrests.

The district attorney's office would not comment beyond a terse statement announcing the charges, but Maj. Jeff Cheek of the Edwardsville Police Department said such delays are common when chemical tests must be performed. Crime labs such as those operated by the KBI are backlogged, he said. The situation is exacerbated because the tests required in this case are less common than the drug tests which are more routine there, he said.

According to published reports, Tomasic said the contents of the package were contaminated with lethal levels of chemicals that included lye and antifreeze.

In an interview conducted on her front porch during the rain Friday morning, the mayor described her frustrations as her son played in the driveway.

"It's been two years since I've been able to sit on my porch," she said.

The troubles began when Ozuna-Trout moved into the neighborhood five years ago, the mayor said. In 2002 the Eickhoffs filed a slander suit against Ozuna-Trout, claiming she had falsely accused them of child neglect in a report to the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services. The lawsuit was dismissed the next year.

In a hearing on countercharges the neighbors filed against each other last year, a judge dismissed Ozuna-Trout's claim and granted the Eickhoffs a final protection order that was to expire in one year, on May 28. The order was later extended to May 28, 2005.

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