'Haunted Crack House' is back to thrill, chill, inform

THE BALTIMORE SUN

CENTREVILLE -- Last year it thrilled you. Then it chilled you. Now it's back, and it's bigger and badder than ever. It's . . .

"Haunted Crack House II: The Horror of Using Drugs Continues."

In Queen Anne's County, as in Hollywood, every entertainment success deserves a sequel.

Last Halloween hundreds of people stood in line for hours to visit the first Haunted Crack House, a scary look at the dangers of drug abuse held at Centreville's creepy former jail.

The brainchild of John L. Lechliter, then the town's police chief, -- the Haunted Crack House was apparently a first. It drew 2,800 visitors, national attention and even what was probably the first Japanese television crew ever to visit Queen

Anne's County.

Letters and calls poured in from such places as Arcadia, S.C.; Georgetown, Texas; Elkhorn, Wis.; and West Valley City, Utah. Imitations have sprung up this year everywhere from neighboring Talbot County to distant Compton, Calif.

Naturally, Centreville will host Haunted Crack House II.

"It was wonderful last year. People walked out in tears," said Linda Walls Simpson, the county health department's drug abuse prevention coordinator, who is running Haunted Crack House II.

"It's real hard to accept that we have crack in Queen Anne's County or that prominent people drive drunk. The problem exists here, and we need to keep mobilizing to lick it," she said.

Haunted Crack House II takes visitors along on the drug odyssey of "Liz," a young mother who craves crack, a potent form of cocaine, so muchthat it finally kills her and her baby.

"Dare to experience the chilling story of a girl who gets tangled in the web of addiction," says a poster for HCH II. (Who says Hollywood has a monopoly on hype?)

Visitors watch officers "arrest" Liz on the street outside the three-story, 82-year-old brick building. Then they follow her story through 14 rooms -- to court, her family's living room (where her parents aren't listening), a teen-age drug party, jail, and eventually morgue, funeral home and cemetery. Finally, there are cider and cookies in the treat room.

"They'll need treats by the time they go through here," said Lt. Gar N. Menefee, commander of the Centreville state police barracks. "I think it does make a difference. Something needs to be done to matize all the ills of drugs."

The jail part of the 45-minute program should be particularly effective.

The cellblock is authentic and so are the inmates, volunteers on loan from the Queen Anne's County Detention Center and the state prison system's Eastern Pre-Release Unit in Church Hill. They will tell their own stories of how drug abuse landed them in trouble.

About 200 volunteers in all -- including state troopers, county sheriff's deputies, town police, paramedics, youth group members, parishioners, businesspeople, government workers, lawyers and even the county's Circuit and District Court judges -- will work to make the evening as spooky and informative as possible.

"People are desperate for answers and desperate for information," Ms. Simpson said. "This is such a good way to educate children. When families come here with children, I hope they don't just walk away and forget it, but sit down at the table at night and talk about it."

Lieutenant Menefee conceded that Centreville, a historic town of about 2,100, probably has never had a real crack house, but he said the area is by no means drug-free.

Chief Douglas E. Crites said town police have made six drug arrests this year, "as much as a six-man police force can handle."

Lieutenant Menefee said troopers and undercover officers make one or two drug arrests a week and maybe more," often involving crack.

"Queen Anne's County unfortunately is no different from all the rest of them in the state of Maryland. We have a drug problem," he said.

While HCH II's approach to the drug problem remains much the same as last year, some changes were made: A $1 admission fee will be charged, ticket sales will be limited to 500 for each of four nights, free care will be provided for young children, and visitors will get a taste of the county's newly instituted DARE (Drug Awareness Resistance Education) program.

"The hope for the future is the DARE program," Lieutenant

Menefee said. "We're educating sixth-graders before they get educated on the street, helping them develop skills to resist peer pressure."

And, oh yes, an "I Survived the Haunted Crack House 1990" T-shirt will be on sale for $7.

Alas, the 1908 jail building won't be available after this year for Haunted Crack Houses. It is due for renovation and will be turned into county office space.

Conspicuous by his absence will be John Lechliter, who dreamed up the Haunted Crack House idea one morning last year while driving to work.

Mr. Lechliter resigned as Centreville police chief in August after his arrest on charges of assaulting a state trooper who responded to a report of a domestic disturbance at the Lechliter house in Talbot County. Prosecutors put the charges against Mr. Lechliter on an inactive docket this month.

The former chief has advised the Talbot County group that started its own Haunted Crack House. His 13-year-old daughter was to play Liz in one scene. And Mr. Lechliter said he has applied for a trademark on the phrase "Haunted Crack House."

"I don't care if they use it, just as long as it's done properly," he said. "Down the road, who knows? Somebody might want to get the movie rights."

Hours for house

Haunted Crack House II will be open the nights of Oct. 30-31 and Nov. 2-3 at the old county jail building, Liberty Street and Broadway in Centreville. Doors "creak open" at 7 p.m. Children under 14 must be accompanied by an adult. Admission is $1.

Advance-sale tickets are sold out. About 100 tickets will be sold at the Centreville Town Office from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. the day of each performance, except Saturday, Nov. 3. Tickets for Nov. 3 will be sold Nov. 2.

For ticket information, call the Queen Anne's County Department of Recreation and Parks at (301) 758-0835.

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