An Orangeburg man has been charged with 43 counts of damaging houses of worship, including four instances where feces were thrown on churches.
Blake Hiscox, 56, of 1521 Columbia Road, was arrested on Wednesday, a day after video surveillance cameras caught a man throwing rocks at a downtown church. Authorities say the vandalism started five years ago.
“We’re very pleased that we were able to bring this case to a resolution,” Orangeburg Department of Public Safety Chief Wendell Davis said. “It’s been frustrating to gather the information and for such a long period of time, not to develop a suspect.”
Hiscox went before Orangeburg City Judge Barney Houser, who set bond at a total of $20,000 in two hearings held on consecutive days.
“You’re charged with 40 counts of malicious injury to places of worship that are in addition to the (three warrants) served yesterday,” Houser said during Thursday’s hearing.
The number of churches said to have suffered damage is 17.
If convicted, Hiscox faces a sentence ranging from six months to 10 years in prison on each charge.
Prosecutor Sarah Ford asked the court for a high surety bond considering the details of the accusations and the lengthy period during which they are said to have occurred.
The first instances happened when feces were thrown onto the churches, she said.
Hiscox has out-of-state family with few ties to the Orangeburg area, Ford said. “It’s our concern that he would be a flight risk.”
Asking for low bond, Hiscox told the court he is “remorseful” and cooperated with investigators.
“One thing I’d like to point out is I’d lose my job,” if he can’t make bail, he said. “It won’t help anyone if I lose my job.”
A native of Indiana, Hiscox said he moved to the Orangeburg area 13 years ago and works for a local manufacturing plant as a quality control supervisor.
Hiscox told the court that during his overnight stay in jail, he had already received threats against “my life, my property, my ex-wife.”
“I would like to turn myself over to the mercy of the court,” he said. “I recognize I need some help.”
Representatives from three area churches were present during Thursday’s hearing. Each declined to speak.
Davis didn’t speculate about why the churches were targeted.
“Obviously, that’s a very good question, and I don’t have the details ... to answer that,” he said.
However, during the initial bond hearing on Wednesday, Hiscox told the court he had gone into a state of depression and became “mad at God.”
Authorities say the incidents of broken windows and feces smeared on churches across the city date back to spring 2008. Beginning in April of that year, five churches were targeted. Four of the five had the front doors smeared with feces.
Police issued a statement at that time asking for the public to report anything that appeared suspicious.
The assault on the area’s worship houses increased dramatically in 2009. That year there were 23 instances where churches reported damage.
Then in 2010, one church made a report. Five acts of vandalism were reported in 2011, four each in 2012 and this year.
Authorities have conservatively estimated the damage to the 17 facilities at more than $20,000. One church alone suffered $3,000 in damage when a stained glass window was shattered.
The list of victims reads like an Orangeburg church directory. Authorities said that list could get longer. If so, the list of charges will lengthen as well.
This year the attacks started in April when a rock was thrown through a window at the Orangeburg Lutheran Church on Ellis Avenue.
On July 2, the First Baptist Church was targeted, then Grace and Mercy Tabernacle and the Way of Life Assembly. Each had a rock thrown through a window.
However, during the First Baptist Church incident, surveillance cameras installed by the city on Russell Street last fall caught a subject driving up to the church in a Ford Taurus. Davis said business cameras picked up where the city cameras left off.
The driver is seen on city and private cameras walking up to the church and throwing two rocks.
On Wednesday, police spotted a Taurus matching the one in the video and stopped it. After questioning the driver, he admitted to throwing the rocks, according to one of the multiple incident reports.
Davis said authorities were helped by technology and weekly crime data analysis, which showed a pattern to the incidents as well as a geographical range.
Sgt. John Caddell and Cpl. Kevin Dukes led the current investigation, drawing from the extensive file compiled by now-retired Sgt. Cindy Smoak, Davis said.
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