A six-year-long neighborhood feud boils over in Dardenne Prairie

A six-year-long neighborhood feud boils over in Dardenne Prairie

On the afternoon of June 24, 2009, Jerry Andres burst into Dardenne Prairie's city hall and demanded to see the mayor. He was 48 years old, a car mechanic with thick black-frame glasses, curly hair and oil-stained hands. The receptionist at the front desk later told police his demeanor was "very serious and angry."

Andres was informed that Mayor Pam Fogarty was unavailable. He clenched his fists. Witnesses said he was "trembling from his rage," and "his tone and volume escalated" as he described how Fogarty and the city harassed him and violated his privacy.

Then Andres said something that stopped city employees in their tracks. Accounts of the exact words he uttered differ greatly, but everyone agrees that he referred to the rampage at a Kirkwood City Council meeting in 2008 that left six dead and two wounded.

Andres reportedly said he sympathized with the gunman, Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton, "a taxpayer who took matters into his own hands" after a prolonged dispute with the city. Andres stated that Kirkwood leaders publicly apologized for their conduct leading up the shooting and urged other communities to resolve their differences with disgruntled citizens to avert a similar tragedy.

"Andres explained that upon completion, Dardenne Prairie would be apologizing to the taxpayers after driving [him] to the point of violence," according to a report by the St. Charles County Sheriff's Department. "[The court clerk] advised that the matter would have to be settled in court. Andres exited the city hall."

Andres purchased his home on Nash Drive in Dardenne Meadows, a sleepy subdivision in suburban St. Charles County in 1999. For him, it was the ideal abode: four bedrooms, two baths and an expansive garage that allowed him to "fiddle with cars" and forget about the previous year's bitter divorce that left his ex-wife with custody of their two children.

Most neighbors welcomed the newcomer with open arms. His greasy coveralls were slightly out of place on a block where the homes sell for $200,000, but whenever there was car trouble, they called Andres.

"He'd do anything for you," recalls Debbie Puzniak, who lives five doors down from Andres. "When my daughter's car broke down, he brought us one of those portable battery-jumper things. He drove it home for her and fixed it that night. We tried to give him money, but he wouldn't take it."

Eventually Andres' garage work disturbed Tom Fisher, a retired army veteran with a gray flattop and mustache, who lives across the street. He says Andres parks wrecked vehicles in the street and operates machinery late at night. Fisher first confronted Andres in 2004.

"He was always nice. When I did some damage to my pickup truck I asked Jerry to take a look at it," Fisher recounts. "When it was just in his garage, I believed it was a hobby. But when he's got five or six cars out in the driveway, I got tired of it. I went to him like a man and asked him to stop. He didn't, and it's been getting worse and worse ever since."

Not everyone shares Fisher's concerns.

"I've had no issues with him whatsoever," says Seth Taylor, Andres' next-door neighbor. "He is one of the most friendly and helpful people in my subdivision. There may be some garage-type noises that come from his place, but it's not something that's just constant. And it's not any louder than a lawn mower."

Fisher complained to the subdivision's board of trustees, but nothing came of the matter until June 2008. It was then that Andres lost his job at a St. Charles body shop. To make ends meet, he began salvaging cars and selling them on Craigslist.

This time Fisher took his grievance to the mayor. Fogarty suggested he take pictures to document any wrongdoing.

"There's a lot of times when people will take pictures of whatever is going on and send them to city hall," Fogarty explains. "You know, 'Here's a dog that isn't being taken care of properly,' or a car that's been up on blocks for forever and a day.'"

On December 18, 2008, owing to Fisher's photographic evidence, Andres was fined $100, plus $59 in court costs, for operating a business without a license.

Undaunted, Andres continued to work in his garage. On March 25, 2009, he received two more citations, this time for $200 each. He requested a jury trial, represented himself, and was convicted in St. Charles County Municipal Court of the unlicensed business charge and violating Dardenne Prairie's zoning laws, which prohibit "operating any repair shop from a dwelling."

Defiant, Andres still refused to stop. Fisher, in turn, continued to snap pictures.

In April 2009 Andres distributed a letter to everyone in the subdivision. In it, he defended his right to buy and repair cars and accused Fisher of harassment and voyeurism. After handing out the message, Andres planted a sign in his front yard that read in bold black letters, "Tom Fisher is a stalker." He wrote those same words on the windows of a van parked in his driveway.

Fisher called police, and Andres was booked for harassment, a violation of his probation.

Two months later Andres noticed Fisher photographing a woman who had come to purchase a treadmill he had advertised online. Andres dialed 911 only to be told that Fisher was not breaking the law. Later that afternoon, he barged into city hall and referenced the Kirkwood shooting.

Andres maintains that he didn't intend to threaten anyone. He says his frustrations boiled over because he was behind on his mortgage and child-support payments.

"I wasn't condoning what [Thornton] did," he explains. "I wasn't screaming. I didn't raise my voice. I just said, 'I want this guy to stop taking pictures. If the police won't help me and city hall won't help me, what am I supposed to do, take the law into my own hands?'"

Fogarty remembers the incident differently. "He said, 'I'm going to make this worse than Kirkwood ever was,'" she says. "You don't take threats like that lightly nowadays, for obvious reasons."

On June 25, 2009 — the day after storming city hall — sheriff's deputies arrested Andres at his home. He was released after pleading guilty to a charge of disturbing the peace by "making a terrorist threat." Andres was ordered to wear a GPS ankle monitor until he completed four hours of anger-management counseling.

Protection orders now prevent him from entering city hall or coming near the personal residence of any city employee, including the mayor. Fisher also has a protection order against Andres, as does Andres' ex-wife.

In December 2009 Andres was hit with yet another pair of fines for zoning violations and operating an unlicensed business, bringing the total to seven tickets in two years. He is scheduled to appear in court on those charges next month.

David Hamilton, Dardenne Prairie's city attorney, says if Andres doesn't cease trading autos, the city will file a civil suit against him and seek a court injunction ordering him to stop.

As for Fisher's photography, Hamilton says, "At some point we told him not to do that anymore. We didn't need more evidence or pictures than we already had."

Fisher says he won't let up. "I'm not going to stop taking pictures until he stops running that business," he declares. "I'm not going to lighten up. I'm trying to get him put back in jail. I think that's where he belongs."

Andres won't budge either. He vents his frustration with profanity-laced tirades in the "Rants and Raves" section of Craigslist. He calls himself a "freedom fighter" and Dardenne Prairie "Communist Town, USA."

"I've got to do what I do in my garage instead of going on welfare and losing my house," Andres says. "But it's at the point now where I can't do anything. No matter who comes to the house [Fisher] sticks his little camera through the window and starts taking pictures. It's just gotten out of hand."

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