BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — SALEM — A Salem gas station attendant is facing charges of malicious destruction after police say he threw a traffic cone at the back of a truck after complaining that it was partially blocking the entrance to a closed car wash at the station.
Michael Whitaker, 48, of 78 Beaver St. pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge yesterday at his arraignment in Salem District Court, where he appeared in response to a summons.
According to a police report, Whitaker was working at the Shell station on Boston Street on Nov. 19 when a man pulled in the station in a large pickup truck.
The driver of the truck told police that he was there to get air for a low tire when Whitaker came out and yelled at him for parking near the car wash entrance, according to the report.
Words were exchanged, and Whitaker went into the station, returning with a ball-peen hammer in his hand, police said.
The driver said Whitaker then picked up an orange traffic cone, one of several that were placed near the entrance to the car wash, and threw it at the back of the truck, smashing a rear light.
He did not apparently use the hammer for anything.
When police arrived, Whitaker told an officer that he believed the driver was planning to steal the cones.
The officer suggested that he could resolve the case by simply agreeing to pay the driver for the damage, around $200. But Whitaker was adamant that the case go to court, even when his boss showed up and offered to pay for the damage himself.
Yesterday, however, Whitaker told a judge that he had since paid for the repair to the driver’s truck with “OEM parts,” meaning the replacement light was from the truck’s manufacturer. He wondered if the case could just be dismissed.
But it was too late to stop the wheels of justice: Judge Michael Lauranzano told Whitaker that he was being assigned a court-appointed lawyer and that the case would proceed to trial.
Whitaker was ordered to return to court on June 20.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.