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Patrols to guard the trail

"This isn't the Wild West," the Montco sheriff said. A bicyclist allegedly shot at boys he said harassed him.

The Schuylkill River Trail in Montgomery County will be watched more closely after another reported assault, officials say.

Two days after a cyclist allegedly fired shots at unarmed minors, Sheriff John P. Durante said yesterday that Norristown and Conshohocken police, sheriff's deputies, and park rangers will beef up patrols along the trail.

"This isn't the Wild West," said Durante, who walks his dog twice a day along the trail near Norristown.

On Wednesday evening, a 27-year-old Norristown man, Joseph James DePaul Jr., fired six rounds from a semiautomatic pistol during an encounter with two teenagers on the trail/bike path in Plymouth Township, police said.

The boys, 15 and 17, were not identified because of their ages. DePaul is facing criminal charges.

According to court records, DePaul told police he was riding his bike on the trail and almost crashed into a fence after a boy kicked him in the ribs near the 900 block of Conshohocken Road. DePaul said the boy had a BMX bicycle. Upset, DePaul fired all six rounds at the boy from a distance of 200 to 250 feet, the records say he told officers.

The younger boy told police that DePaul fired five shots at his friend and one shot at him that flattened his bike tire, the records state.

DePaul, of Hamilton Street, called Plymouth Township police from home later to report the assault and discharge of the gun, and say he was not sure if he had hit anyone, the records say.

Police charged DePaul on Thursday with two counts each of attempted murder, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, and reckless endangerment. All are felonies.

DePaul was arraigned before District Judge Francis Bernhardt on Thursday. Bail was set at $250,000. DePaul was being held at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility.

Risa Vetri Ferman, Montgomery County district attorney, said an investigation was continuing into what role the juveniles played, and charges could be lodged later.

At the same time, Durante moved to revoke DePaul's permit to carry a concealed firearm because, he said, carrying a firearm on any trail in the county or in its parks is "illegal and a violation of the rules and regulations of the Montgomery County park system."

To obtain a permit to carry, gun owners submit to a background check. The permit can be revoked by the sheriff at any time if the owner breaks the law.

"This guy was clearly the aggressor," Durante said. "That's why his permit is being revoked."

Durante said it was up to Ferman to decide if additional charges would be filed against DePaul for alleged firearms violations. Ferman declined to comment.

The phone at DePaul's Norristown home was busy continuously yesterday.

The district attorney also said she and her husband were riding bikes on the trail near Norristown at 6:30 p.m. on a recent Sunday when they saw a group of teenagers enter the trail.

The group spread across the trail, partly blocking the way, Ferman said. As she and her husband approached, her husband lowered his shoulder and knocked one of them out of the way, according to her account.

Two other people earlier reported being assaulted on the trail. As a result, there was a June 10 meeting involving the sheriff, Norristown police, cycling groups, and county officials.

"We will not tolerate violent thugs who terrorize law- abiding citizens enjoying our trail," Ferman said yesterday in an e-mail. "We will go after these punks, and give them the punishment they deserve."

The county has 60 miles of trails, stretching from Green Lane to Philadelphia. The 30-mile river trail goes from the city to Phoenixville.