DERBY A cross-burning on the front lawn of a Derby school board member is being investigated as a hate crime, police said.
Mike Rosales, 43, was sitting on the patio behind his home a little after 2 a.m. Tuesday when he heard something shatter inside. He went in and found that a brick with a racially charged message written on it had been thrown through his living room window.
Then he saw a flickering orange and yellow glow through his front blinds. Someone had planted a 5-foot cross in his front yard and lit it on fire.
"It lit up the whole neighborhood," said Rosales, a Hispanic man who graduated from Derby High School in 1978 and is in his fourth term on the school board.
As he stood with his phone in one hand, talking to a 911 dispatcher, Rosales yelled for his wife and 15-year-old daughter Mallory to go into the basement. He thought they would be safer there, he said, and didn't know what was going to happen next.
Rosales said he wouldn't forget his daughter's reaction when she awoke and found out what had happened.
"I could see the pain on her face," he said.
His wife, born and raised in Derby, was furious, he said.
Derby police officers extinguished the flames about 2:10 a.m. Police and an FBI agent are investigating the case as a hate crime.
"It's a despicable crime," Derby Police Lt. Tim Brant said. "It's an incident that brings out the past that a lot of people try to forget."
Rosales said the crime served as a reminder that there still were people who hated others because of the color of their skin. Still, he said the crime should not describe Derby.
"This isn't what Derby is," the pharmaceutical sales representative said. "This is a good place to live."
A cross-burning can violate the federal Civil Rights Act, said John Sullivan, a special agent with the Wichita FBI office. The FBI usually gets involved when such a crime occurs, as it did in 1998 when someone burned a cross outside another home in Derby.
As a school board member, Rosales has been involved in some controversial decisions. He received hate mail in 1998 after the board upheld the suspension of a seventh-grader who drew a Confederate flag in class.
Under state law, prosecutors can seek harsher sentences when crimes are found to be motivated by race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin or sexual orientation.