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Archive for Saturday, July 3, 2004

Edwardsville mayor says neighbors harassed her family for years before arrest

July 3, 2004

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— For more than four years, Stephanie Eickhoff wouldn't let her children play in the front yard for fear a couple down the street would hurt them.

But on Friday, the couple were behind bars, accused of trying to kill the Eickhoffs by sending them poisoned cakes and soda in the mail. And the Eickhoff children were playing in the yard once more.

The alleged murder attempt was the culmination of a long feud between the neighbors.

"It would make an interesting horror movie," said Eickhoff, the mayor of Edwardsville, Kan., a Kansas City suburb. "Everyone can relate to a grumpy neighbor, but I don't think they can relate to someone actively trying to kill you."

Prosecutors have charged the Eickhoffs' neighbors, Ralph Trout and Donna Ozuna-Trout, with attempted murder.

The Trouts' lawyer, Kevin Baldwin, did not immediately return calls Friday. But Baldwin told The Kansas City Star that the evidence was "circumstantial" and that his clients' arrests were racially motivated because Ozuna-Trout is a minority married to a white man.

Eickhoff denied that and said the arrest came after years of harassment from Ozuna-Trout and a series of restraining orders, visits from social service and code enforcement investigators, and the police.

In April, Eickhoff said, a package arrived at her home containing a two-liter bottle of root beer and an assortment of cakes and doughnuts. There also was a card wishing Eickhoff luck in her mayoral term.

But Eickhoff had been elected mayor of the town of 4,500 a year earlier. The soda had a dark green tint. And the baked goods looked "roughed up."

"Thank God I was home, because I know my kids would have eaten it," she said.

Eickhoff suspected it was Ozuna-Trout.

The snacks were found to contain lethal doses of antifreeze and lye, according to Dist. Atty. Nick Tomasic. The discovery led police to recommend the Eickhoffs leave their home. They stayed on the move for six weeks, staying with friends for a week at a time.

Eickhoff said the trouble started almost five years ago when Ozuna-Trout moved into the neighborhood. Eickhoff said that for reasons she does not understand, Ozuna-Trout would threaten her family, give them the finger, or make a finger-drawn-across-the-throat gesture. Soon the Eickhoffs were receiving visits from state agencies investigating claims of child abuse -- visits they believe were instigated by Ozuna-Trout.

In May 2003, Eickhoff got a restraining order against Ozuna-Trout; Earlier this year, a judge found Ozuna-Trout in contempt and extended the restraining order to next May.

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