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Private Eye Seeks Clues in Sabotage of Vehicles

September 04, 1986|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

LAWNDALE — A private investigator has been hired and several employees have been suspended in an effort to stop what appears to be a systematic campaign to sabotage maintenance equipment in the Lawndale Elementary School District.

In one incident, the driver of a truck leaving the district maintenance yard found that he had no hydraulic brakes. He was able to stop, however, by applying his emergency brakes, school officials said.

They said Jerry Wohl, a Los Angeles-based private detective, has been working for about a month to track down whoever is responsible for that incident and others that began in early June. Deputies from the Sheriff's Department substation in Lennox also have been investigating the case, but officials said no arrests have been made.

Shots Fired at Homes

Similar incidents, accompanied by acts of violence against the homes of several employees in the 20-man maintenance department, have occurred periodically over the last two or three years, officials said.

They said the incidents included the firing of shots into the homes of two maintenance supervisors and the vandalizing of several private vehicles owned by workers.

The workers who were suspended with pay after the June incidents have not been identified as suspects, said Supt. James L. Waters, who declined to speculate on a motive for the sabotage. He also would not reveal how many employees were suspended. Waters acknowledged, however, that an attempt is being made to limit access to district vehicles.

"We have been lucky that no one has been hurt," he said. "But obviously the maintenance people are concerned about their safety and so we are doing everything we can to prevent any further sabotage."

No Union Strife

Waters said the incidents do not stem from any problems with the union representing the maintenance workers--the California Schools Education Assn.--and none of the sabotage has been directed at students, teachers or school buses.

Other sources offered a variety of theories, such as a disgruntled employee bent on taking revenge against the district or other workers, gang activity, racial tension among the workers, or efforts to cover up thefts or other wrongdoing in the maintenance department.

The rash of incidents in June included pouring mineral oil and sand into the master brake cylinders of several trucks and adding engine-damaging sugar to the gas tanks of vehicles and other maintenance equipment.

In the episode in which the truck lost its brakes, an examination of the brake system indicated that mineral oil had softened its rubber seals, allowing the fluid to leak out, Waters said.

$7,300 for Repairs

He said daily safety checks are now being made on district vehicles. Repairing equipment damaged since early June has cost the the 3,900-student district about $7,300, he said.

Waters said the district spent another $4,000 to $5,000 to repair equipment damaged by sabotage that occurred before the latest rash of incidents. Wohl, the private detective, charges $300 a day and has been working two or three days a week on the case, he said.

The superintendent denied complaints by some workers that the district is trying to force them to take lie-detector tests. He said the private investigator is a polygraph expert, but pointed out that such tests cannot be legally required.

Wohl has administered only one lie-detector test during his monthlong investigation, Waters said, and that involved an employee who requested the test to clarify a "side issue."

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