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HUDSONVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) - A 57-year-old postal worker pleaded guilty to burning American flags at two separate Ottawa County government facilities, and admitted he should have found another way to express his anger.
Ottawa County Sheriff's investigators say William Howerton blazed a trail up and down Chicago Drive Tuesday night through Hudsonville and Jenison, setting fire to at least eight flags along the way, including two at Hudsonville City Hall.
"Very disturbing," said Hudsonville City Manager Patrick Waterman. "It's sad that in a small town like Hudsonville that something like this happens."
Army Veteran Roger Behrens served in Vietnam. He's outraged about the burned flags at the Vietnam Memorial outside City Hall.
"It represents our freedom and to burn that... I don't know what the guy's problem was, but he picked the wrong place to do it here," said Behrens. "It's hard for me to understand how somebody could do that, why somebody would do that."
Waterman told 24 Hour News 8 there are three flag poles at City Hall, but only one of the flag poles has ropes that can be accessed by the public.
"The ropes are contained inside of the poles on the other two and locked, so they are secured," he said. "Fortunately, if all three were that way, he may have tried to do the same to all three, but he just picked on that he could get access to."
Howerton was taken into police custody at the Macatawa Bank parking lot on 40th Avenue and Chicago Drive after a paid on-call firefighter alerted the sheriff's department to a suspicious vehicle in that area, according to Ottawa County Sheriff's Department Lt. Mark Bennett.
Deputies then got a warrant, searched Howerton's car, and found evidence that he had set flags on fire. Howerton had lighter fluid that he used to set the flags on fire, Bennett said.
Howerton also admitted to authorities he set fire to a flag at the Ottawa County Road Commission building in Georgetown Township.
"What next?" wondered Ken Kossen of the Ottawa County Road Commission. "If he did this and this wasn't enough for him, what's he going to do next; shoot people? I don't know. I think it's scary, to tell you the truth."
Howerton expressed anti-government sentiments during interviews with Ottawa County authorities and said he believed Sept. 11, 2001 was a hoax and was not perpetrated by terrorists, according to Bennett.
At his court appearance Wednesday, Howerton said he was angry and should have found another way to protest other than burning flags.
"I was angry, full of rage," Howerton said at his arraignment via closed-circuit TV. "I chose to take it out on a symbol of America. That was a bad idea. I should have found other ways to protest or complain or whatever."
Howerton also said he now regrets setting the flags on fire.
"This is not something I'm ever going to do ever again. I've had time to think about it and I realize the err of my ways and what I did was totally inappropriate," Howerton added.
Bennett also said that though Howerton currently faces only two charges, he will also be charged for the other eight fires, including burning the the flag at modular home-showroom American Living, Inc. and Sawyer Sales and Service, which deals in air compressors.
"My son is a Marine and my father is a veteran as well and we take the flag very seriously," said American Living owner Dan Caudle.
Investigators are also working to connect Howerton to some cases that happened as far back as last year.
His bond was set at $1,000. He faces a $500 fine or 93 days in jail for this misdemeanor and will be sentenced August 14.
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