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Tree dispute ends in gunfire

A Beverly Hills man fired a pellet gun at a landscape worker, then fired a rifle, deputies say.

By JOHN FRANK
Published September 30, 2006


BEVERLY HILLS - A 45-year-old Beverly Hills man was arrested Friday after he fired two shots from a pellet gun at a landscape worker and another shot from a rifle as a deputy arrived on the scene, authorities said.

The deputy responded at 2:40 p.m. to 98 S Harrison St. after the landscape worker called 911 to report that the homeowner, John Maasch, had shot at him twice with a pellet gun.

Maasch was apparently upset that a landscape crew was removing a large dead laurel oak from his front yard, a service request made by the county.

Deputy Jeff Hunter was walking toward the front door of the house when he heard a shot come from the residence. He took cover behind a car in the driveway and called for backup, according to deputies and witnesses.

Deputies were able to talk Maasch out of his home peacefully, said Lt. Alan Vick. No injuries were reported.

Investigators recovered three guns from the house: a pellet gun, a .22-caliber rifle and a 9mm handgun.

Vick said Maasch confessed to shooting the pellet gun at the landscape worker and firing the rifle into the air from his back porch. He was charged with aggravated assault with a weapon and simple battery stemming from a physical altercation with the landscapers earlier in the day. Vick said Maasch appeared to be intoxicated, and a half-empty bottle of Jim Beam whiskey was found inside the home.

The incident came a day after a deputy in Polk County was shot and killed during a traffic stop in Lakeland - news that was on the minds of the authorities and witnesses at the scene.

"He picked a heck of time to shoot at a cop," said Laura Menard, a neighbor who lives across the street and heard the shot. "With everything that happened Thursday, the cops were already keyed up."

Menard said she met her neighbor only once and that he smelled of alcohol then, too.

"As we were moving in, (he) came up and told me to keep my kids in my yard and quiet or he'd handle the problem," she said.

She said the landscape crew was friendly, a sentiment echoed by Geraldine Hohman, who lives next door to Maasch.

"They were such professional men," she said. "They were fantastic and did a great job.

Glen Farmer, the landscaping company supervisor, said they began removing two dead trees Tuesday.

"He started (Thursday) yelling and saying that we didn't need to be cutting down the trees, that they just needed to be trimmed," said Farmer, who owns Farmer's Choice Tractor Inc. in Floral City.

During the argument, Farmer said, Maasch pushed him.

Investigators said the situation didn't get any better Friday. They responded to an argument earlier in the day.

Jeff Yost, a landscape worker, said he was just resting on the back of a truck when Maasch peeked out from around the corner of his front porch and shot at him twice with the pellet gun. Both shots missed.

Friday wasn't the first time Maasch's gun use got him into trouble.

In 1999 he pleaded no contest to improperly exhibiting a firearm. He fired a handgun into the air after another Beverly Hills man accused him of reckless driving, a sheriff's report indicated.

That incident happened on Oct. 30, 1998, also on Harrison Street.

County Judge Mark Yerman put Maasch on probation for 12 months, ordered him to complete 40 hours of community service and told him to take a firearm safety course, court records show.

The Sheriff's Office seized Maasch's gun and ammunition when investigating the case. More than a year after he was sentenced, Maasch received permission from the court to get back his personal property from the Sheriff's Office.

The court records don't say whether that property included the gun and ammunition.

Times Staff Writer Jim Ross contributed to this report. John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or 860-7312.