MATTOON — A Charleston firefighter was arrested Wednesday after police said he turned on the emergency lights of a Mitchell-Jerdan Ambulance Service unit while it was parked at a hardware store.
When contacted by ther JG-TC Friday afternoon, Mattoon police Chief Jason Taylor said his department arrested Charleston firefighter James Matthew MacDonald on preliminary Class A misdemeanor charges of criminal trespass to a motor vehicle and violation of oscillating lights.
When contacted Friday by the newspaper, MacDonald said he had been advised not to comment on this legal matter and referred questions to his attorney, Ruth Wyman of Urbana. Wyman could not be reached for comment late Friday afternoon.
Preliminary charges are subject to review by the state's attorney's office. Coles County State's Attorney Jesse Danley could not be reached for comment late Friday afternoon.
Taylor said a witness reported seeing a man, subsequently identified as MacDonald, enter a Mitchell-Jerdan ambulance, turn on the vehicle's emergency lights, and then leave the scene on May 21 in the parking lot of Harbor Freight Tools, 1201 Charleston Ave. E. Taylor said the sight of these lights alarmed customers as they arrived at the hardware store.
"There were people waiting outside the store who thought there was an emergency inside," Taylor said.
The police chief said other witnesses subsequently reported that MacDonald, who was off duty at the time, made "caustic remarks" to the Mitchell-Jerdan crew inside Harbor Freight.
Taylor said MacDonald allegedly made other "caustic remarks" to Mitchell-Jerdan crews in the past, but ambulance service owner Greg Jerdan decided to pursue charges this time because he felt the alleged tampering had gone "too far."
City of Charleston records show that MacDonald has been employed as a firefighter and paramedic with the Charleston Fire Department since 2006, and that he was promoted to lieutenant in 2012. When contacted by the newspaper about the charges, Charleston Fire Chief Steve Bennett said his department cannot release personnel information about its staff.