Updated: July 19, 2011 at 12:00 am
Ron Morphis felt a sense of helplessness when he came home in March to find his Yoder farm in ruins - his garage flattened, an addition to his house demolished, his vintage cars overturned like toys.
His neighbor, Jack Herbst, had caused an estimated $150,000 in damage with a front-end loader, all over an $80 debt, Morphis said.
Last week, the hurt and confusion came flooding back when the 63-year-old Herbst was found dead in a Buick left running in a garage on Edison Road in Yoder, a rural community in eastern El Paso County.
Morphis, who was notified about the death by an El Paso County sheriff’s deputy, said he hung up the phone after hearing the word “suicide.”
“I cried,” Morphis said, describing Herbst as a onetime friend who struggled with drinking and debt.
“He felt alone. He couldn’t see no light at the end of the tunnel.”
Herbst, who pleaded guilty June 30 to one count of criminal mischief, was scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 25. Autopsy results weren’t immediately available, but sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Mike Schaller said there were no signs of foul play.
According to authorities, Herbst, a farmhand who lived on an adjoining property, was angry over an unpaid debt when he drove his employer’s front-end loader to Morphis’ home March 9, and damaged or destroyed much of his neighbor’s property, stopping short of knocking down his home only because there were dogs inside.
“He was a genuine animal lover,” Morphis said.
The brick garage Morphis built was destroyed, along with the two-bedroom addition to his home. 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. More than a dozen mature elm trees were ripped out of the ground using a chain attached to the front-end loader.
It took three months before Morphis was able to return to his home, and he’s still without water and propane because of the damage.
Only the home was insured, and Morphis said he received just $17,000 from his insurance company. Any hope of receiving money from Herbst ended with his death.
Morphis said he could use help, but he’s also mourning a former friend.
“If I would have known it would come to that, I would have dropped the whole thing,” he said.
According to Morphis, the dispute started after he paid Herbst $320 for a flatbed trailer. Without checking ahead, Herbst dropped off stock rails to fit the trailer at Morphis’ house, and told his neighbor to pay him $80 if he wanted them.
Morphis said he would pay when he could, but Herbst grew increasingly angry, he said.