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Posted at 11:52 AM ET, 09/01/2011

Was a downed power line used as a weapon during Irene?

Hurricane Irene, besides introducing destruction ranging from not much to holy cow, made a lot of people angry, particularly at electricity companies. But what I’m about to tell you takes on, if true, a whole new category of storm anger — that is, anger leading to the use of electricity as a weapon.

My colleague Dan Morse — The Post’s expert crime reporter in Montgomery County — has been digging into an incident in which a man allegedly attacked another man with a downed power wire. I’ve been doing this reporting thing for a while, but I have never come across a case involving the alleged weaponization of downed power lines.


Were downed power lines like these used as weapon? (SUSAN WALSH/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Dan is working the story, but I asked him to quickly write a little something summarizing what he has so far. Here it is below. And thanks, Dan. I’m looking forward to reading more about this as the case unfolds:

By Dan Morse

It’s a category of crime you don’t come across all the time: Alcohol-fueled, post-hurricane road rage.

To read a police arrest affidavit leveled against Richard J. Bialczak, that’s what we’re dealing with in Montgomery County District Court. The 32-year-old College Park lawyer stands accused of tailing a 1999 blue Honda Civic through storm-damaged Silver Spring on Sunday night, getting upset when that driver stopped for a downed power line, exiting his 2005 silver Hyundai Accent and attacking the Honda – enlisting his fists, feet, an antenna he tore off the Civic and finally heaving the still-live power line onto the Civic.

The Civic driver wasn’t hurt, according to the affidavit, but spent the ordeal locked in his car and on the phone with 911.

Bialczak was booked into jail and released on bond Monday, according to court records. He stands charged with first-degree assault, second-degree assault, malicious destruction of property and two counts of reckless endangerment, according to records, and is due in court Sept. 23 for a preliminary hearing.

Bialczak declined to comment this week. His attorney, Howard R. Cheris , said his client “disputes the underlying facts in the case.” One avenue the pair could no doubt explore: How do you pick up a live power line and toss it onto a car without getting hurt?

Cheris lamented that his client’s “lifetime of good deeds” could be overshadowed by the startling nature of the allegations. “This is completely inconsistent with his character,” Cheris said.

Here is a more detailed account of the arrest affidavit, signed by Montgomery Police Officer Paris Capalupo:

The Honda Civic driver said he was on his way home from work late Sunday night when he noticed the Hyundai following him through several turns of a neighborhood off Colesville Road and just south of the Capital Beltway. The Honda driver “became frightened and, not wanting to go to his residence, continued to drive.” That’s when he came across the downed power line and yellow caution tape. This driver stopped, the Hyundai pulled up behind him, and the Civic driver got out to alert him to the power line. At that point, according to the affidavit, Bialczak “began to yell incoherently,” telling the Honda man “his boss told him to follow him” and that he intended to kill him, Capalupo wrote.

The Civic driver retreated to his car, locked the doors and called 911. Bialczak started going after the Honda with his fists and feet, and “ripped the antenna from [the Honda] and began hitting the vehicle with it,” Capalupo wrote.

Then the assailant went to his own car, climbed into the Hyundai and rammed the Honda several times, the Honda driver told Capalupo.

A couple who lives across the street allegedly witnessed much of this and later told Capalupo they saw the car-punching, car-kicking and more:

“Bialczak picked up the downed, live power line which they observed spark,” the officer wrote. “Bialczak then threw the live power line onto” the Honda.

Capalupo said that while speaking with the suspect at the scene, he detected “a very strong odor of an alcoholic beverage as well as bloodshot and watery eyes. Bialczak was extremely upset and not making sense when he spoke.”

Capalupo wrote that Bialczak would be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, but a review of online court records indicated that those charges hadn’t been filed.

By  |  11:52 AM ET, 09/01/2011

 
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