Neighbors of Ray Road natural area say students are starting fires, using drugs - Ahwatukee Foothills News: News

Neighbors of Ray Road natural area say students are starting fires, using drugs

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Posted: Thursday, February 3, 2011 8:00 am | Updated: 5:08 pm, Fri Apr 29, 2011.

Hidden from public view behind a large, undeveloped hill at the southeast corner of Ray Road and Ranch Circle, teenagers have been camping, taking drugs, lighting fires and disturbing neighbors, according to Dimitri Lazarescu, whose back fence abuts the property.

About a month ago, several teenagers built a campsite in heavy brush immediately behind Lazarescu's home. When he went out to clean up the area, he found a fire pit, a scattering of homemade drug paraphernalia, and a book from nearby Mountain Pointe High School's library with pages torn out.

"They built a little shelter. We thought it was a homeless person," Lazarescu said. "It wasn't. It was students."

Students have been using the back side of the hill as a cut-through from local neighborhoods to Mountain Pointe High School, at the southeast corner of 44th Street and Knox Road, for years, he said. One of the big concerns is the fire hazard, he said.

"We could go up in flames in a matter of minutes with that dry brush there," Lazarescu said. "We could lose a row of houses."

Linda C. Littell, Tempe Union High School District spokeswoman, said the school is not aware of any illegal activity in the area.

"I haven't heard anything about it. Obviously, we just deal with things on the school site," Littell said.

A monument sign on the hill's Ray Road slope indicates the property belongs to the Mountain Park Ranch Homeowners Association. Another nearby sign describes it as a certified wildlife habitat, where neighbors sometimes see animals such as javelinas and coyotes, Lazarescu said.

Jim Welch, Mountain Park Ranch HOA president, said the property had five "no trespassing" signs scattered around, and crews added three more on Monday morning.

In practicality, it's hard to stop students from taking the shortcut, he said.

"Hopefully we can deter any criminal activity," Welch said. "I can't tell you if (the signs) will be effective."

Welch said he plans to instruct HOA security to better monitor the area.

Lazarescu said the existing signs have not been a deterrent. A couple of weeks ago, he said he observed three teenagers stomping out a fire they had started after flicking a cigarette into the brush.

Lazarescu said he has confronted teenagers on other occasions, once hopping his back fence with a fire extinguisher, and another time yelling at a gathering of them and calling police after observing them smoking drugs from a glass pipe. The suspects normally flee, he said.

He's also cleaned up paint cans and industrial solvents that he believes teenagers are using to get high, he said. Much of the activity occurs in the afternoon, after school lets out, or in the night, Lazarescu said.

Julie Cox, another neighbor, said she called police about three months ago after observing four teenagers sitting on the hillside throwing rocks at a vacant house. In the last couple of years, area homes have been paintballed, and she has had people scaling her fence to cut through the neighborhood, she said.

The trespassers perhaps feel they are not being observed, Cox said.

"They just stand out there and urinate in public," she said.

Lazarescu said he believes the value of neighborhood homes is diminished because of the intrusions.

"Our privacy is reduced to zero. Our neighbors', as well," he said.

He said he intends to install video cameras equipped with infrared to monitor the area behind his home, and that neighbors are becoming more vigilant and will call police if they see anything suspicious.

Sgt. Mike Todd, a Phoenix Police Department spokesman, said information on the site was not immediately available.

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