Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Front-end loader leaves path of destruction over $80 debt

LANCE BENZEL and JOEL MILLMAN Updated: March 10, 2011 at 12:00 am

For 12 years, Ron Morphis painstakingly built a life on a farm in Yoder in eastern El Paso County, restoring antique vehicles, finishing an addition to his home and putting up a garage.

In one hour, his neighbor destroyed it all over a debt of $80, Morphis' sister said.

Jack Herbst, 63, was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of felony criminal mischief and booked into the El Paso County Jail on $10,000 bond, accused of going on a rampage through Morphis' property with a front-end loader.

Morphis' sister, Loranne McLaughlin, said Thursday the front-end loader carved a path of destruction at 36630 Bellemont Road that caused $250,000 worth of damage.

The brick garage Morphis built was destroyed. The two-bedroom addition to his home was destroyed. Six vehicles, including a restored 1956 Willys Jeep and 1949 Chevy pickup owned by his father were overturned. Two campers and a trailer were damaged. A propane tank and farm equipment were destroyed. Electrical and phone lines were ripped out.

Lastly, more than a dozen mature elm trees were ripped out of the ground with a chain attached to the front-end loader.

All of it allegedly done by a neighbor, a man Morphis considered a friend whom he had helped out in the past.

"Herbst lives on the property next to him," McLaughlin said. "Jack and my brother hayed together, they mowed together. When he lost part of his hand in an accident, my brother helped him out."

The two never had a falling out, she said, which made this week's events even harder to understand.

Morphis, who works as a driver escorting tractor-trailer trucks carrying oversize loads, had agreed to buy a trailer from Herbst for $400, his sister said. Morphis paid Herbst $320 and was planning to pay him the rest when he got paid on Friday, she said.

On Monday or Tuesday, though, Herbst left a voice mail on Morphis' phone saying "I want my $80 or I'm going to flatten everything" Ronnie owns, McLaughlin said.

When Morphis returned home from work on Wednesday he found his property in ruins. He called the sheriff and then he called his sister.

"He's destroyed my life," McLaughlin said her brother told her. "He's destroyed everything I owned."

When sheriff's deputies first questioned Herbst, he denied having anything to do with it, McLaughlin said deputies told her and her brother.

Herbst, whom the sheriff said is a hired hand at a neighboring property, later confessed, according to McLaughlin.

Deputies said they found front-end loader tire tracks leading from Morphis’ property to Herbst’s employer’s property.

"Jack told the deputies 'I would have flattened the house but I didn't want to hurt the dogs inside,'" she said. "He told them 'The government is after me, the creditors are after me and Ron owed me money. I got even.'"

McLaughlin said her brother only had insurance on the structures and doesn't have the money to cover the damage to the rest of the property.

She plans to establish Ron's Rebuild Fund at any branch of American National Bank in Colorado Springs for donations to help him rebuild his life.

Call the writer at 636-0366.

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