Arts and Culture | Local

In new book, victims of chlorine bomb, anti-Semitic attack, find healing and hope

(L-R) Karen and Myles Levine with co-author Dan Baldwin [Courtesy Dan Baldwin)

During the early morning hours of Aug. 2, 2009, Myles Levine was jolted out of bed by the screams of his wife, Karen. Their front and garage doors were sealed shut. Globs of motor oil, paint, and foam peanuts were strewn along their walkway and driveway. A putrid chemical smell filled the air, emanating from a chlorine bomb that was detonated hours earlier. The improvised weapon produced a cloud that stretched almost a mile wide, forcing an evacuation of the neighborhood.

As the chaotic scene unfolded, the Levines were sure that Todd Russell Fries had attacked them again.

“It’s the same thing that was done to us in Dove Mountain,” says Myles Levine, recalling what he said to the 911 operator.

The couple, along with co-author Dan Baldwin, wrote, “The Levine Project: Fighting Back Against a Campaign of Terror,” which chronicles their years-long journey dealing with a vengeful contractor. The book was released on Aug. 27 by Trafford Publishing.

The Levines hired Fries — former owner of Burns Power Washing, a well-known Tucson business at the time — to resurface their driveway at the beginning of 2007. The couple then lived at the Highlands at Dove Mountain in Marana.

Numerous contractors told them it was impossible to simply resurface the driveway, which became slippery when it rained, and their only option would be to rebuild it. But Fries said he could do the job, assuring them it would only take a few days, says Levine. The original estimate was for $5,000.

About a year later, Fries was still working on the driveway.

“[Fries] expected it to be something he could do real fast, make a lot of money on real fast and get out of there,” says Levine. “If it was that simple of a job, then every other contractor that we had look at it would have done it.”

Karen says Fries seemed a “little cocky” at first, but his company was reputable and he was the only contractor that would take the job. But as the work dragged on, Fries became increasingly frustrated, she says.

As Fries was putting on the finishing touches, he continued to charge them for extra supplies, says Levine. They decided to stop payment on their final installment of $200, after the check went uncashed for six months, he says. This dispute sparked Fries’ plan to take revenge on the couple, a plot he dubbed “The Levine Project.”

On the morning of Nov. 1, 2008, the Levines discovered their home had been vandalized. Motor oil, grease, feces, dead animal carcasses, and foam packing peanuts were littered across their driveway and front lawn. Swastikas and anti-Semitic slurs were spray painted on their garage.   

Karen says she had no doubt that Fries vandalized their home on Halloween night, especially since the driveway was doused with oil. “He probably thought I’d call him back and have him redo my driveway,” she says.

Within two months of the first incident, the Levine’s moved to a gated community near the Omni National Golf Course. The Levines were attacked at their new home less than a year after the first occurrence. Those crimes would lead to the arrest and conviction of Fries, and consecutive sentences in federal and state prison.

On the day of the chemical attack, Lew Hamburger, a volunteer trauma counselor with Northwest Fire District, reached out to the Jewish Community Relations Council, explaining the situation and that the Levines would appreciate support from the local Jewish community, says Stuart Mellan, president and CEO at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona.

Mellan says he and Brenda Landau, former director of the JCRC, drove to the Levine’s home immediately after getting word of the incident.

“We visited with them and were showing our support and empathy, and just wanted them to know that we would be there for them in any way that we could be,” says Mellan.

Landau had just taken on her new job that month.

“It was very early in my position as JCRC director, so I was very shocked,” she says. “I would have likely been shocked regardless, because it was something I’d never seen in our area before. But it was a frightening scene on many levels.”

The Levines were convinced Fries was responsible for the crime. They grew increasingly anxious and impatient as the investigation continued and he remained at large, Mellan says. For the next few months, the JCRC acted as a liaison between the Levines and law enforcement.

“And I think our support was appreciated by the Levines,” Mellan says.

He says the JCRC responds to acts of anti-Semitism in the community for two main reasons: to provide assistance for victims, and to keep track of occurrences in order to identify patterns, working with law enforcement to remedy the issue.

Fries was arrested by the FBI on May 13, 2011. He was charged with unlawful possession and use of a chemical weapon and providing false information to federal investigators. On Oct. 5, 2012, he was convicted of both counts in federal court and was sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison the following March. He was 49 years old. On Aug. 9, 2013, Fries was convicted of two counts of unlawful possession of a destructive device and sentenced, in December 2013, to another five years in federal prison, according to previous reports.

Fries was convicted of 20 of the 27 state counts in March 2016, and was sentenced to 10 years in state prison, which he will serve after his federal term.

The Levines have sought professional help since these traumatic events began almost a decade ago, says Levine. They have moved almost every year since April 2012, in an attempt to reclaim their lives. But their new house feels like the best fit yet, he says.

“And I’m trying to get back all this time that we lost … we’ve just had a bad time all these years,” he says.

Levine wants their book to act as a warning to other homeowners. Although Levine wishes this didn’t happen at all, documenting their story was cathartic and a way to reclaim their identity.

“I’m going to live with this the rest of my life — might as well make the best of it,” he says.   

The Levines will host multiple book signing events throughout Tucson. Dates and locations include Sunday, Oct. 22 at Barnes & Noble, 5130 E. Broadway Blvd.; Sunday, Dec. 3 at Mostly Books, 6208 E. Speedway Blvd.; Saturday, Dec. 9 at CasaBella Fine Art, 4425 N. Campbell Ave.