Caldwell pleads not guilty, claims self-defense

August 25, 2004|TODD KLEFFMAN

A frail and obviously ailing Jack Caldwell Sr. was wheeled into Boyle District Court Tuesday, where the 78-year-old clad in a yellow jail jumpsuit pleaded not guilty to murder from his wheelchair.

Caldwell is accused of shooting his neighbor, Jim Trachsel, to death Sunday while Trachsel was mowing his yard. Police and neighbors have said the two men, who lived side-by-side on Boone Trail, had long feuded over property lines and drainage problems in their upscale Danville neighborhood.

District Judge Jeff Dotson denied an appeal by defense attorney Ephraim Helton that Caldwell be released on $25,000 bond and allowed to stay with relatives in Garrard or Fayette counties who could better respond to Caldwell's medical problems. He suffers from cancer, acute asthma and other ailments, Helton told the judge.

"Our concern is that if Mr. Caldwell is returned to jail, his health will suffer," Helton said.

But Dotson ordered Caldwell held without bond and returned to custody. He will be held under around-the-clock guard at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center until a pretrial hearing is held Monday afternoon, said Lt. Melissa Adams of the Boyle County Detention Center.


Trachsel, 63, a retired Danville educator who served as principal at Jennie Rogers Elementary School for 13 years, was shot five times with a 22-caliber semi-automatic rifle, which was recovered at the scene. Trachsel was hit three times in the torso, once in the hand and once in the cheek while riding his lawn mower near Caldwell's property, assistant Danville Police Chief Jay Newell said.

After the hearing, Helton said his client acted in self-defense when he shot Trachsel, not out of anger that boiled over from any disagreements the two men might have had in the past. Police said that Caldwell told officers and EMTs who first responded to the scene that he acted in self-defense.

"There is too much hype about property issues that had already been resolved," Helton said. "I don't know that there was any ongoing disputes at this point. The dispute was not fresh in his mind or consuming his thought process. It was not a situation where a gentleman went out with the intention of shooting his neighbor or anyone else."

Helton says his client took rifle to hunt for skunk

Helton said that Caldwell, a World War II veteran, had taken his rifle outside to hunt for a skunk that had been spotted in the neighborhood. Caldwell, who can't hear with his right ear or see with his right eye, was standing near his garden when he "was startled when a tractor came at him from behind," Helton said.

In his mind, Caldwell thought "he was about to be run over" and he wheeled around and opened fire, Helton said. "He didn't know who was on that tractor."

Helton said Caldwell and members of his family "want to express their deepest sympathies" for Trachsel's death, which Helton called "a tragedy for two families."

"We don't want to leave anyone with the impression that Mr. Trachsel was intending to run over Mr. Caldwell," Helton said. "It just appeared to Mr. Caldwell that he was in danger."

Danville detective Capt. Bob Williamson, who is investigating the case, declined to discuss in specific detail evidence found at the scene but said he did not believe the self-defense theory put forward by Helton was plausible.

"No, there is no evidence to point to that," Williamson said.

Trachsel's body was found at the edge of property line between the two men's backyards, Williamson said. The riding mower had come to a rest about 12 to 15 feet away at the bottom of a slope and was also "straddling" the property line, Williamson said.

The detective declined to reveal the distance between the two men when the shooting occurred or how many total shots were fired.

Shooting appears to be result of hostilities, Williamson says

Williamson said that the shooting appears to have been the result of hostilities between the two men that have simmered over the years.

"We believe it is over a property dispute, a combination of property lines, drainage and flooding. He thought Mr. Trachsel was somehow responsible for some of those problems, " Williamson said. "We have no reports of anything that had recently blown up, but there is something that makes a man shoot another man and the property dispute is the most obvious thing that has come to light."

Helton and partner Bill Erwin said that Caldwell and Trachsel had resolved their differences more than a year ago and that Caldwell had turned his attentions to drainage and flooding problems that he believed the city was responsible for. "If there was any animosity over this deal it was with the city," Erwin said.

Earlier this year, Caldwell accepted a check for about $40,000 from Danville's insurance carrier for damages that occurred to the foundation of his house after water leaked from a city-owned pipe after a storm, said City Manager Darrell Blenniss.

More recently, Caldwell appeared before the City Commission requesting that the city do something to alleviate flooding problems in his backyard, but the city declined.

"He wanted us to solve his problems," Blenniss said. "Historically, his property has always flooded and it's the responsibility of the homeowner to resolve that."

Blenniss said that he did not recall Caldwell blaming Trachsel for any of the flooding problems, but said he was "very forceful about his position" and had threatened at least one city employee in trying to get the matter resolved.

"He was very insistent," Blenniss said. "He truly felt it was the city's obligation to do something about it."

Central Kentucky News Articles