HOWLAND, Maine — Tracy Grehowski used to take strolls through downtown, but she stopped her nightly ambles when two men were brutally beaten on Caron Drive and River Road on Aug. 17.
It’s been 2½ months since the incident, and a Penobscot County grand jury indicted the four men charged in connection with the attack on Wednesday, but the Howland resident said she has no plans to resume her evening walks.
“People are still afraid to go out at night. You don’t know what’s lurking around you in the woods here anymore,” Grehowski said Friday. “It’s not like it used to be. Everybody gets their walking in before dark now.”
Several residents and town leaders interviewed Friday said they felt the same way. Penobscot County sheriff’s deputies charged with patrolling the town and state police have stepped up their efforts and made their presence felt since the attack, they said, but there’s still some uncertainty about just how safe the town is.
“It is more awareness than fear. If anybody was getting complacent about how things could go, this unfortunate incident brought people back to the unfortunate reality that terrible things can go wrong even in a small town,” Glenn Brawn, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said Saturday.
The outrage over the incident and other related crimes t hat fueled an angry town meeting at Hichborn Middle School attended by 200 people on Aug. 28 has abated somewhat, Town Manager Jane Jones said, but concern remains.
“At this point, people are waiting for the criminal justice system to run its course,” Jones said. “They are hopeful that the case will be solved quickly. However, not enough time has passed so that the root causes [of the incident] have gone away.”
State police said in an affidavit that the fight started over money used to buy beer instead of drugs. Residents who attended the public meeting called by town selectmen complained of drug activity, burglaries and other crimes that culminated in severity with the brutal assault.
Friday, all residents interviewed agreed that the sheriffs have definitely made their presence felt since the incident.
“They are making themselves known every day, way more than they used to,” said Shalee Sibley, a 28-year-old Burlington resident who works as a clerk at Bridge Street Market, a convenience store about two miles from downtown. “They want people to know that they are here and doing their jobs.”
“I think they have done a wonderful job. We will see what happens with the court case. I am very satisfied with the [police] coverage that Howland gets,” Brawn said.
“You never used to see them. Now you see them all the time,” said one woman, who asked that her name not be used.
A few people interviewed asked that their names be withheld, fearing possible retribution. Several others said they distantly knew the young men charged in connection with the crime and didn’t want to speak ill of them. All people interviewed declined to be photographed or videotaped.
Sibley said that many residents responded with compassion to the assault by donating to fundraisers that helped the victims — two men ages 30 and 31 — defray their medical costs.
A prosecutor said the 30-year-old victim suffered 80 facial fractures and will need extensive reconstructive surgery. The 31-year-old suffered a broken eye socket, several broken ribs and lost several teeth to the beating, state police said.
The Bangor Daily News is not identifying the injured men because they are apparent victims in the assault and have not been charged with any crimes.
In the wake of the attack, selectmen authorized the town to allocate $12,000 to extra police patrols. Those patrols are still occurring, Jones said.
Selectmen eventually hope to hold more public meetings and organize a community watch program that will get residents involved with policing their community. That likely will occur within a few months, Jones said.