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Chain-saw attack on power poles raises query

Police say they have enough evidence to charge Gregory Seifert of Hamburg with eight felonies for allegedly using a chain saw to cut through poles supporting electrical transmission lines in Orchard Park.

What they don't have is a clue as to why he allegedly did it.

"We don't believe it was an act of terrorism but an act of criminal mischief," said Detective Lt. Patrick J. McMaster. "We're as perplexed as everybody else as to why he targeted the electrical towers."

It's not the first time that Seifert, 43, has been accused of doing something inexplicable. He allegedly set his house on fire last month and set his SUV on fire in 2007.

ir,4l,0p,130,5p The recent vandalism caused the damaged poles to topple in high winds. The resulting power failure affected 6,300 residents in Orchard Park and West Seneca.

According to police, Seifert committed the crime sometime after midnight Jan. 3. They said he hiked a couple of miles from his home, revved up his 16-inch chain saw and ripped into three 95-foot-tall poles supporting electrical transmission lines behind California Road and two smaller electric utility poles on Taylor and South Taylor roads in Orchard Park.

Seifert cut only two-thirds of the way through each of the poles, police said, apparently leaving it to nature to complete his alleged criminal mischief.

And that's exactly what happened 10 days later when strong winds snapped the three bigger poles, causing the power failure.

Three days later, a pole on Taylor Road was spotted leaning, and police began checking for cut marks on utility poles. The leaning pole and a second had been cut.

That's the scenario Orchard Park police outlined Tuesday in announcing Seifert's arrest.

At about 1:30 p.m. Dec. 8, Seifert was spotted burning trash behind his Cape Cod home on Parker Road in Hamburg. His 2 1/2 -car garage caught fire, and flames spread to a nearby house. Hamburg police charged him with felony arson.

"He was burning trash, and the flames were 15 feet high, and it was a very windy day," said next-door neighbor Glen Zdon. "Then he just left. My girlfriend was nervous. She thought the flames would start our house on fire. His garage collapsed, and the house caught fire."

In August 2007, Seifert claimed that his sport utility vehicle caught fire in Buffalo when a gallon container of gasoline turned over and spilled onto a weed whacker, which sparked and set the vehicle ablaze. That's the story he initially told city fire marshals. In a later interview, he admitted that he torched his vehicle.

At the time, a Buffalo fire official said, "He's got some issues." Apparently, the issues pertained to matters in his personal life, based on what he told investigators. Authorities say he is estranged from his wife.

The Buffalo arson charge was dismissed in contemplation of dismissal in 2009.

In Orchard Park, McMaster said detectives have been unable to find out why Seifert targeted the transmission and utility poles, which are owned by New York State Electric & Gas.

Damage to the poles, which have since been repaired or replaced, was set at $100,000. Additional damage was done to nearby National Grid power lines off California Road when the NYSEG transmission poles collapsed.

Orchard Park Officer Brian Lukowski was credited with tying Seifert to the vandalism. At 4:30 a.m. Jan. 3, he spotted a red wagon on the side of Taylor Road. He pulled over, saw the chain saw in the wagon and noticed footprints in the snow leading to a wooded area.

"Seifert came out of the woods and could offer no plausible answer why he was out. He said he was collecting cans. We didn't have anything to hold him on," McMaster said.

When the poles started snapping, Payne and other detectives began taking a close look at Seifert, confiscating his chain saw and other evidence. At 4:30 p.m. Monday, he was brought into Orchard Park Police Headquarters for questioning.

Seifert was calm and friendly at times, McMaster said, but he became angry when he was asked if he was responsible for the damage.

Seifert acted alone and has no connection to NYSEG or National Grid, McMaster said. Seifert, a NYSEG customer, was not believed to be in arrears on his electric bill.

Seifert is now in the Erie County Holding Center, charged with five counts of criminal mischief and three counts of criminal tampering, all felonies. He is being held in lieu of $2,500 bail and is scheduled to return to Orchard Park Court at 4 p.m. Thursday.

email: lmichel@buffnews.com