Santa in jail — on Christmas

Dec. 26, 2001

By Jacob Quinn Sanders
The Philadelphia Inquirer

If you didn’t get what you wanted this holiday, it could be because Santa was naughty, not nice.

So naughty, in fact, he spent Christmas Eve and Christmas in a Delaware County jail.

And it’s going to take more than reindeer and elves to spring him.

Wearing his full holiday suit, Santa – now known to police as William Hatzell, 57, of Middletown, Delaware County – got into a mess of trouble Saturday, attempted to flee – by car, not sleigh – and ended up accused of trying to run down the top cop of Bethel Township.

Hatzell now is cooling his black-booted heels in Delaware County’s George Hill Correctional Facility, awaiting arraignment tomorrow before Concord District Justice Richard Cappelli on assault charges.

The trouble began Saturday evening when Hatzell showed up as Santa at the Booth’s Corner Farmers Market in the southeastern part of the county.

“He seemed to be a little overly friendly with the kids,” Bethel Police Chief David D. Houser Jr. said yesterday. “And there was already a Santa there. I thought maybe he was drinking.”

About 6 p.m., Houser, in uniform, confronted Hatzell and asked for identification.

“He told me: ‘I’m Santa, who do you think?’ ” Houser said. “Can you believe this guy?”

Hatzell told Houser his identification was in his car. The police chief then brought Hatzell to the market’s manager, who said he had not hired a second Santa. After the exchange, the manager asked Hatzell to leave.

Houser and Hatzell walked through the parking lot to Hatzell’s late-model maroon Chrysler sedan. But Hatzell refused to produce his identification. Instead, he got into the car and locked the doors, Houser said.

Then Hatzell started the car.

“I got behind the car and he throws her in reverse and bumped me,” Houser said. “I said real loud: ‘Don’t you do that again. Get out of the vehicle.’ ”

Instead, Houser said, Hatzell hit him again, harder. So Houser reached around and grabbed the driver’s-side mirror. Hatzell drove off with Houser still holding on.

“I hung on there for a good couple of seconds,” Houser said. “I just had to let go.”

Houser, who suffered only small bruises, got on his radio and put out a call for the conspicuously attired suspect and his car.

State police troopers picked up Hatzell, still in his Santa garb, a short while later.

Police charged Hatzell with three counts of aggravated assault, one count of simple assault, reckless endangerment, criminal attempt, disorderly conduct, and fleeing and attempting to elude a police officer.

Lower Chichester District Justice Rocco Gaspari Sr. sent him to the Hill Correctional Facility and set bail at $20,000 cash.


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