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Accused Mailbox Vandal Leaves Calling Card - Friend’s Thumb

December 27, 1990

HAYS, Kan. (AP) _ An accused mailbox vandal left a calling card - his friend’s thumb.

″We had a perfect fingerprint,″ Ellis County sheriff’s Deputy Dave Zellmer said. He discovered the thumb Dec. 9 while investigating a wrecked mailbox at the Victoria home of Bill Berger.

″There was blood everywhere,″ Zellmer said. ″At first, I thought it was a nose, then I saw it was a thumb.″

Police say Darin Engel, 25, of Hays, hit the mailbox with his pickup truck. He probably didn’t know the mailbox - an ornate sheet-metal box depicting two cowboys roping a cow - was mounted to an iron pipe.

The mangled box and pipe got hung up on the truck’s underside. While Engel shifted gears to rock the truck back and forth, Stephan Lantz, 27, also of Hays, tried to loosen the box, Zellmer said.

In the process, part of his thumb was severed.

″I never found any piece of the pickup, just the thumb,″ Zellmer said.

The deputy checked a local hospital and found that Lantz had been treated for a torn-off thumb and was sent to a Wichita hospital for further treatment.

Nearly a week later, Engel turned himself in. He took full responsibility for the vandalism, Zellmer said.

Vandalizing a mailbox is a federal offense, but U.S. officials waived the right to prosecute Engel, Zellmer said.

He will be prosecuted in state court on vandalism charges. If convicted, he faces up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

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