Thiry jailed for probation violation

The homeless man acquitted in the Oak Knoll fire is back in jail on a probation violation after pleading guilty last week to tossing a traffic delineator off the Ashland Street bridge onto Interstate 5 and harassing shoppers with "aggressive panhandling" in January.

John David Thiry's court-appointed attorney said the Ashland community should stop harassing his client. Ashland police and the public began filing complaints against the 41-year-old mentally ill, addiction-plagued Thiry as soon as he returned to Ashland, said attorney Michael Bertholf.

"John Thiry is a good man," said Bertholf. "Everybody in Ashland knows him. It's only because of this fire that now everyone has a huge beef with him. They have been hounding him."

Ashland police Chief Terry Holderness disputed Bertholf's claims and said his officers picked Thiry up this last time at the request of Jackson County probation.

"We certainly treat Mr. Thiry like any other citizen," Holderness said. "And Mr. Thiry has never indicated to us that he's being harassed."

Thiry was arrested on Jan. 22 after a driver called 9-1-1 to report he'd seen Thiry throw a 3-foot, orange traffic delineator off the bridge and onto the freeway, according to police reports. The pole-like delineator didn't hit any cars, police said.

Police say Thiry then headed to the nearby Rite Aid parking lot, where he began aggressively panhandling and harassing shoppers. He was cited for disorderly conduct in the Rite Aid incident.

The two separate incidents were reported by two different citizens, Holderness said. The person who reported the freeway incident had no idea who Thiry was. The second reported that a man who "looked like the guy in the news" was "getting in people's faces" and demanding money from people near the Rite Aid.

"He was screaming, 'Give me money!' " Holderness said, adding Thiry's former, passive panhandling at the Bi-Mart had elicited no complaints.

"This has to do with Mr. Thiry's behavior," Holderness said. "It's a cycle. And it's not unusual for someone with Mr. Thiry's types of problems."

The bridge incident occurred not far from where investigators said Thiry ignited a grass fire on Aug. 24 that spread across Interstate 5 and destroyed 11 homes.

Thiry remained in Jackson County Jail on $10,000 bail after his January arrest until March 9, when he pleaded guilty in Jackson County Circuit Court to a single count of throwing an object off an overpass and a single count of disorderly conduct related to the panhandling incident.

Thiry was released from jail March 9 after being sentenced by Judge Lorenzo Mejia to a total of 40 days in jail for the two counts with credit for time served, and 15 months' supervised probation. All remaining charges in the cases have been dismissed per the plea agreement reached between county prosecutor Michelle Abraham and Bertholf.

Jail records show Thiry was picked up for a probation violation on Tuesday and is expected to be released on Friday.

"The judge told him to get in touch with Jackson County Mental Health and the probation department," said Bertholf, adding Thiry likely did not do one or both of those things.

"A four-day sanction is not unheard of for a minor violation," Bertholf said.

Bertholf expects his troubled client to bounce in and out of jail for the next three years or so because Thiry is mentally ill, suffers from addiction issues and is being harassed by community members who are still upset with him over the fire.

Thiry was charged with 10 counts of recklessly endangering another and 14 counts of reckless burning in the Oak Knoll fire. Mejia acquitted Thiry of all charges in December. Thiry likely did start the fire, but prosecutors had not proven Thiry was aware of the risks, a condition necessary for him to be considered guilty of recklessness, Mejia ruled.

Holderness sent someone to the jail to ask Thiry if he wanted help upon his release in December, he said.

"He said no," Holderness said.

Andy Vandergaw, Thiry's court-appointed attorney in the Oak Knoll fire case, has said Thiry fails to meet the legal criteria for being declared insane. But Thiry does exhibit behaviors the defense attorney has observed in those with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, he added.

Thiry needs professional help, but he's too ill to ask for it — and the justice system is unlikely to provide that help, Vandergaw has said.

The social worker at the Jackson County Jail never referred Thiry's case to mental health workers during his previous incarceration, likely because he didn't believe Thiry was an imminent danger to himself or others.

When questioned by the Mail Tribune the day of his December release, Thiry said he received no treatment or medication while he was in jail. After being released from his 107-day incarceration, Thiry took the $30 the court gave him and said he was going to buy himself a beer.

Sanne Specht is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach her at 541-776-4497 or e-mail

Share This Story