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Kathy Daley | Democrat

Constables in the Town of Bethel oversee its 85 square miles, including the hamlet of Smallwood. Here, Doug Ketcham is on patrol.

What’s happening in Smallwood? Some victimized multiple times by break-ins

By Kathy Daley
SMALLWOOD — November 23, 2010 — Town of Bethel Supervisor Daniel Sturm says his office and law enforcement agencies are taking “very seriously” a rash of break-ins in the Smallwood area and are conducting an investigation into what’s happening and why.
“I don’t want to jeopardize the investigation” by giving details, said Sturm, “but we are making every effort to bring this to a positive conclusion and safeguard the residents of Smallwood.”
Smallwood, which boasts 1,200 homes in 1.6 square miles, lies off Route 17B in the Town of Bethel. Full-time residents live in about 300 of the houses.
The most recent burglary took place on Thursday, Nov. 11, sometime between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., when jewelry was stolen from a home on the fringe of Smallwood, according to Chief of Patrol Arthur Hawker from the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department. The residents were full-time and had gone out, said Hawker.
On that same day, an individual with a weekend home in Smallwood called the Sheriff’s office to report that his flat-screen TV and a DVD player were missing. The person said he could not pinpoint when the burglary took place, except to say he himself had not been in the house since Oct. 15.
Chief Hawker said that this summer hosted an unusual number of thefts in Smallwood.
“There seemed to be an inordinate number of break-ins in the Mongaup Valley-Smallwood area in a small amount of time,” said Chief Hawker. Stolen were “jewelry, cash and portable items. These are the types of things taken for a quick turnaround so that they can buy drugs,” he said.
On Aug. 20, a burglary after hours at Granny’s Supermarket, also known as Zach’s, on Route 17B resulted in the theft of money, cigarettes and the cash register.
House break-ins have riddled Smallwood for the past few years, said resident Robert Rathenal. His home has been burglarized on three occasions, each time when he and his wife had gone out. Damage was done to windows and doors as thieves broke in on May 16, 2008, Oct. 31, 2009 and Aug. 13 of this year. The Rathenals lost mostly jewelry.
Rathenal noted that summer people had their home broken into and liquor stolen. Another Smallwood resident told Rathenal her door looked like it had been pushed in but she surmised that when her dog barked, the would-be burglars left.
Another year-round homeowner, Joe Skordinski, lost jewelry, watches and wedding bands when thieves broke into his Smallwood house in May 2009.
“I was told when the sheriff’s department came that another break in had gone on at the same time in Kauneonga Lake,” said Skordinski.
Skordinski says he thinks the frequency of break-ins would lead one to believe that a Smallwood resident might be responsible. “I think it’s someone who knows the area and lives here.”
Another resident, who asked not to be identified, pointed out that some Smallwood homeowners rent out their houses and that those renters “don’t care much about the community. I think they might be responsible for what is happening here.”
Chief Hawker said his men are focusing more on the Smallwood area as part of a regular post in the Town of Bethel.
“We are trying to give Smallwood extra attention, in addition to the Bethel constables and the state police that also cover the same area,” said Hawker.
Bethel employs two full-time constables and several part-timers, But resident Rathenal, who is the first vice president of the Smallwood Civic Association, says the area the constables cover is so large, they are not able to spend much time in Smallwood proper.
Resident Bob Barrett, who is past president of the Smallwood Civic Association, said the seasonal nature of much of Smallwood contributes not only to easy thievery but to unreported thefts.
“The people who are not here all year round may not discover until they come back on a weekend, or in the spring, that someone broke in,” Barrett said.
Barrett said the hamlet’s boat launch suffered vandalism this summer, with boats overturned and plugs pulled out of the floor of boats. Barrett’s wife June, who writes the Smallwood column for this newspaper, asked readers to stay alert to anything unusual going on.
Police are also asking residents to call if they see a person or vehicle that seems out of place. “Don’t be reluctant to phone us,” advises Chief Hawker.
The sheriff’s department can be reached at 794-7100. Concerned residents may also dial 911 or state troopers in Liberty at 292-6600.
According to Undersheriff Eric Chaboty, the problem in Smallwood is a concern. But how to find manpower to cover a large county is also an ongoing problem.

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