The number of felony crimes prosecuted in Portage County jumped in 2012, due in part to the county's ongoing illegal drug epidemic.
Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci said his office filed 893 new felony cases in Portage County Common Pleas Court in 2012, each representing one defendant charged with one or more felonies.
That's an increase over 2011, when 881 new felony cases were filed, he said.
Of the cases filed in 2012, 47 percent -- 418 -- were felony drug crimes, including possession.
One of the more notable trends was an increase in burglary cases filed by prosecutors based on arrests made by the 17 law enforcement agencies in Portage County. In 2011, 91 people were prosecuted on felony burglary charges. That increased to 147 prosecutions in 2012, Vigluicci said.
"We're seeing a lot more home invasions and a lot more outbuildings (being broken into), drug users stealing stuff and pawning it for drugs," he said. Vigluicci estimated that between 80 and 90 percent of break-ins and burglaries are drug-related, with drug users stealing property to trade or sell to get high.
"It's dangerous stuff, especially in this county where people tend to own guns," he said.
Many times, he said, homeowners believe the perpetrator to be a stranger, but "many times there's a story connecting the suspect" to the victim. That could be someone who visited the victim's home, is a friend of a friend of the victim or has been told by someone who visited the house that valuable property can be found there.
"There's definitely a direct correlation between the economy and an increase in drug use, especially with heroin addicts who will do anything to feed their habit, including home invasions," he said. "Of course, then you have people who are armed and have the ability and right to defend their homes."
Another 273 cases were property-related, including felony theft or receiving stolen property charges. Many of those cases also are drug-related, Vigluicci said.
Violent crime prosecutions also increased in 2012. Prosecutors filed 202 felony child abuse cases, up from 180 in 2011, and 81 felonious assault cases, up from 59 in 2011.
Vigluicci's office, working with Ravenna police, successfully obtained a guilty plea in the August 2012 murder of Pamela S. Fox, 56, of Ravenna. Her 21-year-old son, Joseph W. Fox, pleaded guilty to seven felony charges for beating and strangling his mother to death in her King Street home on Aug. 13, and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Traci Y. Wolfe, 40, of Paris, and Thomas W. Walters, 43, of Shalersville, are set to go on trial this summer in the alleged murder of Blake A. Wolfe of Windham on Nov. 22, 2012.
Vigluicci's office also continues to do more with less staff. He said he plans to talk to Portage County commissioners about adding several employees, having not filled five full-time positions left open by retirement, disability or other reasons since 2008.
"The jail is full, the courts at capacity," Vigluicci said. "We're operating at more than capacity with reduced staff. Everyone is very busy and working hard."
One goal Vigluicci said he has is adding another attorney to handle appeals. Pamela Holder, the lone attorney in the Appellate Division of Vigluicci's office, handled 108 new cases before the 11th District Court of Appeals in Warren in 2012. That's a caseload increase of 80 percent over 2011. More than half of those from legal challenges were filed by Vigluicci's office in response to legal challenges to a controversial blood alcohol testing machine called the Intoxilyzer 8000.
Portage County Municipal Judges Mark Fankhauser and Kevin Poland refused to allow Vigluicci's prosecutors to use the results from the machine in their courtrooms after defense attorneys alleged the machines were giving unreliable readings. Viglulicci successfully appealed those rulings in three cases, but other decisions are pending an appeals court ruling.
"We're the tip of the sword here. We do a lot of (drunken driving) prosecutions," said Vigluicci, whose office filed 1,332 misdemeanor and 21 felony drunken driving cases in 2012. "We were one of the first counties to implement the Intoxilyzer 8000. My office is very aggressive in prosecuting drunken driving."
Follow Dave O'Brien on Twitter at @RCCrimeWatch
Contact this reporter at 330-298-1128 or email@example.com