Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Man charged in Auburn tree sabotage


Harvey Almorn Updyke Jr.


AUBURN, Ala. -- The man allegedly responsible for poisoning the live oaks at Toomers Corner where Auburn fans have long celebrated big wins has been arrested and charged.

Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson said Harvey Almorn Updyke Jr., 62 of Dadeville, was arrested Thursday at the police station and charged with one count of first-degree criminal mischief. Mr. Updyke arrived at the jail without an attorney and could face other charges, the chief said at a news conference.

Dozens of students and fans attended the news conference as the Auburn community mourns the apparently imminent demise of the trees.

Bond was set at $50,000. If convicted, Updyke could face one to 10 years in prison.

A man calling himself "Al from Dadeville" telephoned a radio show late last month, claiming he poured herbicide around the 130-year-old oaks that are the scene of celebrations after Auburn's sports victories. The caller signed off by saying, "Roll Damn Tide."

Alabama athletic director Mal Moore decried the poisoning as "a terrible thing to do."

Dawson would not confirm that Updyke was the person who called the radio show.

Dadeville is a town about 30 minutes from Auburn with a population of just over 3,000.

The two nearby oaks still had remnants of toilet paper from groups of fans who gathered at Toomer's Corner Wednesday night after hearing of the poisoning.

Orange and blue pom poms were laid at the base of the cordoned-off trees along with flowers and signs with messages like "Get well soon" and "PLEASE GOD SAVE THESE TREES."

"It's shocking that somebody would destroy a tree just over a football game," said Steven Davis, who drove with his wife, Janelle, and 2-year-old Kayla to see the trees. The family, all sporting Auburn shirts, said they were among those celebrating the recent national championship at Toomers Corner.

Stephen Enloe, an assistant professor of agronomy and soil, said consultation with experts around the country indicated that there was "a very low probability" that the trees will survive because of the concentration of the herbicide found in the soil.

"I have celebrated many times with friends, family, with the undergraduates after Auburn victories," Enloe said.

"And it's just an incredible travesty to see this kind of malicious act occur and it breaks my heart to see somebody so willfully destroy such an incredible cultural landmark for the city of Auburn, for Auburn University."

The trees were poisoned with a herbicide Spike 80DF, that is used to kill trees.

Auburn quarterback Barrett Trotter rode his bike by the site about lunchtime Thursday.

"It's just sad. That's all I can say," said Trotter, likely the leading contender to replace Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.

"It's sad that some guy would do that. It's definitely one of the landmarks of Auburn and probably the biggest Auburn tradition that's been going on here for many years.

"It's something that we can live without but at the same time it's not going to be the same."

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