At 6:03 a.m. on Aug. 25, activists started gathering at the Caldwell Eco-Center parking lot to travel down to Petersburg for the initial court hearing for I-69 activists Hugh Farrell and Gina "Tiga" Wertz.
The pair were scheduled to appear in Pike County Circuit Court, where each faced charges of one felony charge of corrupt business influence (racketeering), two counts of misdemeanor conversion and two counts of misdemeanor intimidation for protests against new-terrain I-69.
"We're going down to show support for Hugh and Tiga, and also to show the Pike County Court that people are paying attention," Myke Luurtsma said.
"We are speaking out, just as Hugh and Tiga spoke out, in opposition to I-69, and we don't plan to just sit back and let it happen."- Alex Smith
Alex Smith overheard and explained, "It seems like what is going on is an act of intimidation in its own right. By concocting the most extreme, over-the-top charges, the government is trying to suppress opposition and create a climate of fear in the activist community."
Luurtsma then stated that "the majority of people in Indiana have been opposed to this (the construction of new terrain I-69) from the very beginning. I think that fact should be mentioned in any reporting of this event. All the polls confirm that we are expressing the view of the majority of people in the state of Indiana."
Smith agreed, "We here today are all activists who are serious about wanting to stop the construction of I-69. We are speaking out, just as Hugh and Tiga spoke out, in opposition to I-69, and we don't plan to just sit back and let it happen. Others are speaking out and acting as well. The state is taking a forceful and draconian approach. The state feels they have to crush this because the opposition is big, and there is resistance. The state is trying to alienate the activist community from those who are also against I-69, but who are not taking an activist approach. Their strategy is to create a wedge."
Smith explained that, "After the court hearing, we are going to visit landowners along the Pike County planned corridor of I-69, knocking on doors, giving information about their rights of eminent domain, handing out a DVD of comments that we have compiled from people who are against I-69, giving people the Web site."
"The defense and prosecuting attorneys were present, but the judge was not."- Lydia McDonald
When asked why he was going today, Jacob Schumacher said, "I'm going to do it to support my friends. Of course, I am against I-69, aren't you?"
People arrived on foot, in cars and on bicycles. Even at that early hour of the morning all were cheerful and energetic. There was a lot of laughing as people clustered in small groups and came together in a big circle to plan the car-pooling. At 6:45 a.m., 27 people entered five cars and caravanned.
The next day, Lydia McDonald explained what happened in Pike County Court.
"Well, it all ended up being uneventful," she said. "The defense and prosecuting attorneys were present, but the judge was not, due to personal reasons. So, there was no proceeding after all! The lawyers met privately while all the supporters waited in the Courthouse. Afterwards, at approximately 10 a.m., one of Hugh's lawyers, Rick Kammen, spoke with the crowd outside the Courthouse. He stated that the proceeding did not occur due to 'crossed signals' and was both 'our mistake and theirs.'"
Kammen stressed that he did not feel it was done purposefully or in response to the large number of supporters who showed up. Motions for dismissal were supposed to be heard but instead will be taken under advisement and arguments will be heard at the next court date, which was set for Oct. 20 at 10 a.m. The lawyers also set a tentative trial date beginning April 19, 2010.
Kammen also noted that "if the road is a dead issue, the case is a dead issue," implying that these outlandish legal tactics are being used to intimidate others from opposing new terrain I-69.
McDonald explained that others had come to Pike County Circuit Court to support Hugh and Tiga, "Over 40 supporters showed up. After the court date, folks all went out to eat together nearby and set the next date for a support meeting."
David Stewart can be reached .