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Man who drew ire of shop owner returns to jail

  • Scott A. Irish (Vermont State Police photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/26/2021 9:51:46 PM
Modified: 7/27/2021 3:29:37 PM

CHELSEA — A 40-year-old homeless man at the center of a controversy over alleged break-ins in the Chelsea area is back in jail.

Scott A. Irish was charged Sunday with violating the conditions of his release by moving from a wooded area in Washington, Vt., to a friend’s house in Topsham, Vt., without informing the Orange Superior Court clerks office. Irish had been ordered to notify court officials before he moved as part of his conditions of release on a burglary charge out of Washington County from June 1.

He was being held Monday in Northwest State Correctional Facility and has an arraignment scheduled for Tuesday morning in Orange Superior Court.

The weekend’s arrest is the latest brush with the law for Irish, who in recent months has been at the center of tensions in the Chelsea area as businesses and residents reported an increase in burglaries and thefts.

In May, WRC Automotive owner Wayland Childs reported his business on Route 110 in Chelsea was broken into and suspected Irish had stolen his laptop and tried to sell it, according to an affidavit written by Barre City Police Officer Amos Gaylord.

Police alleged Childs later confronted Irish at a motel in Barre and held him at gunpoint until police officers arrived. The officers took Childs into custody.

According to Gaylord’s affidavit, Irish acknowledged having something to sell because “I do drugs” and was “dopesick” and “hurting.”

Childs, 35, pleaded not guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, second-degree unlawful restraint and reckless endangerment during a hearing in Washington Superior Court on May 21.

Irish has not been charged with the WRC Automotive burglary, though police said at the time that the accusations against him were being investigated.

Through a Facebook account under Irish’s name that included photos of Irish and other identifying information, an individual purporting to be Irish reached out to a Valley News reporter to discuss drug addiction and the role it plays in criminal behavior. At the time, Irish said he was living with his dogs in a tent in the woods of Washington, Vt.

According to Irish, his addiction started when he suffered a work injury while logging and doctors prescribed pain medication for him.

“I struggle with pain every day,” Irish wrote in a message.

After doctors stopped his medication, Irish said he resorted to using heroin: “I used to be an addict and I know that heroin works for pain and I resorted back to using heroin cause it’s cheaper than buying painkillers.”

Now, he said the addiction has gotten so bad that if he goes without heroin, it feels “like I’m dying.”

“I went 12 years clean. Didn’t touch anything,” Irish wrote, adding that he didn’t experience legal trouble until he started using heroin again. “No one likes being in pain.”

Irish’s story is one rehabilitation experts like Headrest Executive Director Cameron Ford know well.

“It’s a snowball effect,” Ford said. “Some people have an injury and are prescribed opioids, then they still need something for pain.”

As a person’s addiction continues, Ford said, they may start breaking in and stealing from residents and businesses to get extra money for heroin.

“Once people have an injury and are addicted and can’t afford the habit, they need to resort to other things,” Ford said.

The incident between Childs and Irish revealed tensions within Chelsea and surrounding communities over what residents say has been an increase in property crimes in recent years.

Area residents discussed frustration over a perceived lack of police response, arguing that officers should patrol more heavily at night, when many break-ins occur. Other decried what they see as leniency on the part of criminal court judges who allow people with multiple theft charges out on bail.

Residents have been vocal in their support for Childs, setting up red, white and blue, “We stand with Wayland,” signs outside homes throughout Chelsea, Washington and parts of Barre.

Via a Facebook message, Irish denied breaking into Childs’ shop.

A week after the motel incident, Irish was charged with a burglary in East Montpelier. Police alleged they captured an image of Irish on surveillance video at a storage facility around the time two catalytic converters were stolen from the building, according to court records.

When they took Irish into custody, police allegedly found a catalytic converter — a car part that contains small quantities of precious metals — in his possession and charged him with grand larceny.

“There is clearly a connection between the opioid epidemic and crime,” Vermont State Police spokesman Adam Silverman wrote in an email last month. “The Vermont State Police has seen a significant increase in drug-related offenses in recent years. These offenses include retail theft, and larceny from vehicles and residences.”

Just as Chelsea residents say they’ve seen an uptick in thefts, addiction experts say they’ve also seen an increase in people suffering from addiction, especially over the last year.

Ford, the Headrest director, points to COVID-19 and the year-long lockdown as a main reason for the trend.

“As everyone is staying home you’re going to see quite an increase,” (in drug use,) Ford said.

Turning Point Recovery Center Executive Director Mike Johnson also drew a link between an increase in crime and drug use. The effects of that can be seen in the sheer number of catalytic converter thefts, which have jumped up across the country and Twin States.

“Their focus is all pretty much gone about what’s right and what’s wrong,” Johnson said about people who resort to theft to support their addiction. “Imagine being sicker than you’ve ever been and physically aching. They have to find something.”

He said better transportation and access to services, along with stopping the stigma about drug misuse, would all help.

For his part, Irish in the recent Facebook interview, said being homeless has contributed to his problems.

“I don’t have a vehicle and there is no bus or anything up by where I’m staying so no way to get to the clinic and I can’t stay right in Barre — there is no place I could stay in a tent with my dogs in Barre,” he wrote.

Irish is scheduled to appear in court again on the catalytic converter theft charge on Thursday. A message to his attorney, Michael Shane, was not returned Monday afternoon.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.




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