It’s been a bad week for trees in our neighborhood, beginning with the dozen or so that fell during Wednesday’s violent storm. So when neighbors saw an unidentified man hacking up the beloved Indian-marker-shaped tree in Lake Highland Park just off Peavy, they were quick to take action.
Amy Martin captured the crime in action with photos, and later shared a rousing email with the Advocate outlining exactly what happened. Read it here:
“Late on Thursday afternoon, Tina Weinert of Eastwood noticed a man chain sawing the pecan ‘Indian marker tree’ on Peavy near Lake Highlands, right off Dixon Branch. The same tree that had been vandalized before, so everyone monitors the tree closely. She called 911 and relayed to the man that what he was doing was illegal. He was rude in reply.
Tina called me and my husband Scooter Smith and I zipped down there. By that time, Tom from Lochwood had arrived and blocked the perp’s vehicle with his big pick-up. He also confronted the man, who threatened him with a whirring chain saw!
Police began arriving, five cars in all. I called Michael Parkey of the Eastwood Riparian Committee, who called Karen Woodard, city forester. She in turn tracked down Russell Hooper, district supervisor for the park department. Even though on vacation, he fought rush hour traffic and came over.
Perp told police he was authorized by the city to cut storm-downed trees, but could not provide paperwork backing his claim. Why he didn’t just pull the plentiful, already downed wood from the area curbs, we’ll never know. It was assumed by all he planned to sell the pecan wood to meat smokers.
A steady stream of residents came by, each one was angry, enraged, even livid. Many gave the perp a piece of their mind. He was obnoxious in return. We stood in vigil. Someone arrived with photo proof that the tree had been low to the ground like that for decades and not a storm-downed tree. It was stressed that although it was not a confirmed Indian marker tree (at an estimated 75 years it’s too young), it was a landmark tree considered significant by authorities and deeply beloved by residents.
People showed the police photos of family gatherings at the tree, picnics by the tree, children playing on the tree. A little boy touched the tree and cried that ‘my tree is hurting.’ Heartbreaking! Lots of kids came by. Represented were Eastwood, Lake Park Estates, Lochwood and Old Lake Highlands neighborhoods.
None of the police had dealt with this kind of crime, so there was confusion. But several of them lived in the area and were aware of the tree and its sentimentality. Hooper gave the tree a valuation of a minimum of $10,000, which allowed a charge of felony criminal mischief. He confirmed to the police that the property was part of Lake Highlands Park and the cutting was unauthorized. He verified that the tree had been vandalized multiple times before.
The perp was arrested and taken away, and his truck and trailer were towed. The massive amount of wood he cut was removed from his trailer and stacked in the park. The park department will be by around 8:30 a.m. Friday to collect the cut wood. Unfortunately, it’s visible from the street and will probably disappear overnight unless hidden. All agreed the wood should go to One90 Smoked Meats, since they provide free food for police functions, but didn’t know how to make that happen as it is the property of the park department and also evidence in a legal case.
A policeman said that the perp would probably request a judge trial, rather than face a jury of tree lovers. A sympathetic judge might let the perp off. But anyway you look at it, the perp is out many thousands of dollars in impoundment fees, court costs, and lawyer services. He won’t be cutting trees in the parks again.
As things were wrapping up, Councilman Mark Clayton came by, saying his office was flooded with calls. He expressed his concern to the officers and thanked Hooper for coming by on vacation day. As I was leaving, there was a steady stream of residents, many with children, coming by to see the injured marker tree and share concern.
The tree is expected to survive, though it is deeply damaged. A main limb that touched the ground and grown in has been cut in two, so it’s going to be touchy. Parkey will ask the park department for its evaluation of the tree and share it.”
This is the second time in a year that someone has hacked into neighborhood park pecan trees.
The message is clear: You mess with our trees, you better be prepared to take on the entire neighborhood.
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