The story, as Ted Nelson tells it, sounds positively bonkers.
A few months back, Nelson said, a man with a chainsaw showed up on his doorstep offering to trim some limbs on a pin oak.
“I wanted it done. The price was reasonable, so I signed him up,” Nelson said. “When he finished, I paid him.”
An unorthodox arrangement, but it worked for both parties. No harm, no foul. But a few weeks back on Sept. 5, the roving tree cutter showed up again and pitched his services.
Nelson declined. “He looked mad, but he left,” he said.
A little while later, a tree from an adjoining property fell into Nelson’s yard. It looked as if it’d been cut. Weird, but not a big deal. He hired a tree service to chip it up and filed a police report.
Then on Sept. 22, a rainy Wednesday, the guy with the chainsaw returned. “I told him to hit the road,” Nelson said.
Next thing Nelson knew, a Douglas fir in his yard came down. A clean cut indicated that it’d been done by a chainsaw.
Two cut trees in two weeks was too far-fetched to be mere coincidence. Nelson suspected the door-to-door tree guy but didn’t say much about it.
Then via social media, Nelson learned that the same thing had happened to others. Thinking it the work of a vindictive tree cutter no longer seemed outlandish.
A police report from the Sept. 5 incident reads like lip service. Definitely doesn’t sound like a priority.
It lists the date and time, a street address and the officer’s name. The incident was written up as vandalism — “tree on property” in a line provided for a description.
Down at the bottom, an “x” was placed in a case status box labeled inactive.
Through the magic of Facebook — the platform is both a blessing and a curse — Nelson learned that a friend of his wife’s had witnessed a similar incident in the Mount Tabor area.
“I was working in my yard a couple weeks ago,” said Melinda Lawson. “A truck pulled up, then I heard a chainsaw running for 5 minutes and then the guy got back in his truck.”
Weird, right? What happened next, Lawson said, was even stranger.
The man started walking into her backyard and looking at her trees. “He said, ‘I’d like to cut these for you,’” she said. “I told him, ‘Not today.’”
Around the same time, an elderly neighbor came over and told Lawson that a tree had fallen across his driveway and was blocking his garage.
“You could see where it was sawed off,” Lawson said.
Her husband, meanwhile, had gone over to help the neighbor clear the driveway. And he managed to get a word with the tree cutter, who’d left a business card with Lawson.
The tree man naturally denied any involvement or even being at the neighbor’s home. But there was one problem.
“He was caught on a doorbell camera (at the neighbor’s house),” Lawson said. “We have his picture.”
The Lawsons, too, filed a report with the Winston-Salem police telephone reporting unit.
And like Nelson before them, they were given the same pat advice: If the man comes back around, call 911.
Not exactly what anyone was hoping to hear.
“They told us it wasn’t a priority,” Nelson said. “With all the shootings, the guns in schools and drive-bys, you name it. I get it.”
Still, the victims would have liked to see more attention paid. Especially considering that they have a business card, a doorbell camera photo and the license tag of the man’s truck.
It doesn’t seem like it would take Sherlock Holmes, or Barnaby Jones for that matter, to run a license plate or ask a couple questions.
We emailed the department’s new public information officer last week with a description of what’s been happening and a report number and posed two questions: What can be done about it? And what have you done about it?
(That’s the city’s new media protocol. Speaking on the record to actual cops with firsthand knowledge of any given situation is verboten. That’s not the PIO’s fault. That’s a policy decision made by the brass and downtown city officials.)
We didn’t hear anything back. Again, there are much more pressing matters and a declining number of officers to deal with them, but to regular folk, finding freshly cut trees in their yards is a problem.
“We just got back from (out of town),” Nelson said Thursday. “Everything was OK, and no more trees were down. But I was worried that a chainsaw could have been taken to the house.”
Given everything else that’s occurred, it’s not as crazy as it sounds.