Noises in the Night

What you will see here, dear Reader, is a chronicle of spite.

Undeserved, uninterrupted, unyielding spite, triggered by one man’s belief that he could rely on the legal system to guide him through a simple real estate transaction.

What Garrick Krlich got, instead, was intimidation, frustration — and spite.

Krlich is a small contractor who lives unostentatiously in Hubbard, Ohio’s East Hill neighborhood.  Over the years, he has managed to acquire surrounding properties, older homes like his that he turns into well-maintained rental properties. He makes a decent living, isn’t greedy for more, and has been, overall, quite contented with his life.

Until the Clemente house next door became empty.

Until the noises in the night began.

For more than four years now, the raucous sound of horns blowing has shattered the quiet of the night in the Krlichs’ neighborhood, disturbing not only Krlich and his wife, Lucinda, but surrounding residents as well.  The Krlichs lie awake, listening … waiting … and then come the sounds of the roaring engines, the screeching tires – and the horns. Horns that seem to be screaming “Go away! Leave! Never come back!”

They honk in the daytime, too, even when the Krlichs are not there to hear them. Horns that seem to say, “That’ll teach you to mess with the people who run this town.”

During one Saturday in 2009, when the harassment was at its peak, Rick Krlich counted nearly 100 blasts.

Of course, the Krlichs report the disruptions to police – Hubbard has an ordinance that forbids the blowing of car horns unless it’s to warn of danger.  After a few responses, though, police became less than anxious to assist … and that just emboldened the tormentors. Pleas to the city law director, Krlich says, fell on equally disinterested ears.

Many in Hubbard who hear of the Krlich tormenting shrug their shoulders, passing the behavior off as nothing more than one could expect.

“It all goes back to the real estate deal,” they say.  And they are right.  The details of that transaction are listed separately on this site, and any reader will conclude that, just by bidding on the wrong piece of property – property that he had every right to bid on – Garrick Krlich brought down the wrath of those who “run this town.”

But this is not a reaction of “sore loser” against the winner.  The horns are blowing in support of those who triumphed in a nasty real estate deal – a deal that Krlich is sure was accomplished through trickery, influence peddling and downright lying.  The horns are, in effect, just rubbing salt into the wound.

Substantial time has passed since the real estate unpleasantness.  The venomous response to what Krlich saw as a simple – and unsuccessful – business deal has seen scores of people arrested while the city divides over who’s at fault – Krlich or his tormentors. Public officials’ loyalties have been tested, and at least one high official was suspended from his position because of his response, or lack of it, to what began as a nuisance but is obviously escalating toward serious violence.

Angered to the brink one night, Krlich followed and trapped a car whose horn-honking driver had pointed a gun at his home – a pellet gun, as it turned out, but the intent was obvious.  The driver was convicted of a misdemeanor, but it was Krlich who felt the city’s resentment.

Finally driven to install powerful monitoring equipment that clearly identifies each offender right down to the vehicle’s license number, and conscientiously bringing charges against each, Krlich has as yet been unable to completely stem the flow of spite from drivers who seem compelled to declare their loyalty to those to whom clout and cronyism have already given the upper hand.

The complex monitoring system he set up, which includes a system of five surveillance cameras, a microphone and digital audio and video recording technology, all feeding a computer with court-admissible, tamperproof digital coding, cost him some $14,000.   He caught his first horn blower within five minutes of initiating the system, and since then has collected more than 800 incidents, which he stores in the computer and on DVDs, printing out the accompanying photos.  The DVDs are stacked on shelves in his basement, categorized under vehicles, license plate number, or the offender’s name. Paper documentation, including evidence he’s gathered and documents of pending court cases, is stacked on his dining room table.

Not only do city officials refuse to follow up on his legitimate complaints, he says, but many of them are actually participating in the harassment.  He’s recorded hundreds of cars and identified scores of participants, including autos emblazoned with the insignia of Hubbard Township police; Hubbard Township Zoning;  fire vehicles from the local fire district as well as those in Wheatland, Farrell and West Middlesex, Pa; relatives of city officials, and even elected officials.

Through his attorney, Robert A. Henkin, Krlich has brought suits for civil protection orders against many drivers, among them senior citizens, public workers and other unlikely-sounding perpetrators; some 270 complaints against horn blowers languish in Girard Municipal Court and Hubbard Mayor’s court, waiting for action from unresponsive prosecutors.  Those that do get heard usually end with an agreement to desist the horn blowing or a protection order issued in Krlich’s favor.

It’s a long, slow process, a Sisyphean effort.  Krlich is confident nothing will change now that there is a new law director in Hubbard: Jeff Adler, who was until recently the city’s law director and who Krlich says has already indicated great disinterest in pursuing his complaints and in fact may have had an attorney/client bias in the case, became Girard Municipal Judge in January 2012.

It likely comes as no surprise that Hubbard, the setting for Krlich’s travail and a small city in its own right — 7,767 inhabitants according to the 2010 Census — is better known as a satellite community to adjacent Youngstown, which needs no introduction.

Like most of the municipalities in the scandal-plagued Mahoning Valley, elected officials here don’t forget who funded their campaigns, who the power faction consists of, who can roust the votes to get them re-elected. This influence reaches through wards and precincts, through police and fire departments, through City Council and the courts.

Unlike Youngstown, Hubbard’s rate of violent crime is low – 70 incidents per 100,000 people, compared to 1,006 incidents per 100,000 in Youngstown, 524 in Ohio and 676 nationally, according to the website Property crime rates are a bit above average – 4394 incidents per 100,000 people compared to 4331 in Ohio and the nation’s rate of 3727 per 100,000 – but still lower than Youngstown’s 5529.

The 2000 Census shows that Hubbard’s three and a half square miles are populated by a mostly white (98.08 percent), underemployed population (10% compared to a national figure of 9.10 %) who enjoy a cost of living that is 15% lower than that of the rest of the country.

“Where Opportunity Begins,” its website proclaims of this community, which was a minor rural crossroads until the 1860s when crowds of European immigrants, lured by the discovery of coal beneath its surface, arrived to mine new lives for themselves.  That, and Youngstown’s steel mills, offered most of whatever employment existed. Residents share common backgrounds, common prejudices, even common names and families.

Small.  Insular.  Defensive.  And  ruled by an unseen but clearly present fist of power that has directed its force against one man – a man who happened to be trusting enough, or naïve enough, or foolish enough, to think that all he had to do was follow the law and his life would be peaceful, orderly, and good.