February 17, 2011
Today's lessons for would-be environmental vandals: If you're going to take it upon yourself to destroy a venerable icon beloved by hundreds of thousands of people, a) Pick a target that's not monitored by camera 24 hours a day, and b) Don't call in to the most popular radio show in the state to brag about your crime. Otherwise, you might end up like 62-year-old Alabama fan Harvey Almorn Updyke, better known now as "Al from Dadeville," who was arrested early Thursday morning for allegedly applying a lethal dose of herbicide to a pair of 130-year-old oaks at Toomer's Corner, the traditional campus meeting point for Auburn fans to celebrate victory by rolling the trees. Updyke is charged with criminal mischief and was being held Thursday morning on $50,000 bond.
His arrest came less than 18 hours after Auburn confirmed the poisoning in a release on Wednesday afternoon. Initially, the university was alerted by a caller to the Paul Finebaum Show on Jan. 27, "Al from Dadeville," who proudly described poisoning the trees with Spike 80DF – the same herbicide later found in soil samples – a few days after Auburn's comeback win over Alabama last November. According to the university, the lowest level of Spike detected in samples was 0.78 parts per million, "a very lethal dose." The highest level detected was 51 parts per million, some 65 times that lethal dose, which is possibly enough to warrant significant environmental penalties. (The university also said there's "no reason to suspect any human danger from the herbicide," and an expert said at a press conference Thursday morning that there's very little chance any groundwater would be affected.) Auburn police chief Tommy Dawson said Thursday morning Updyke potentially faces further charges, but declined to elaborate.
Obviously, the trees aren't expected to make it. Auburn students turned out for an impromptu rolling Wednesday night – possibly the last for these particular specimens – after news broke of the oaks' impending demise, while reporters and police staked out Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa for revenge-minded Auburn fans. None showed, but it only takes one, and it may only be a matter of time.
As for Updyke (a retired Texas State Trooper and a grandfather living in Mobile, according to his Facebook page), his immediate future is uncertain, as is his ultimate goal in literally killing one of the oldest, most recognizable traditions in college football. Most of the time, the hate between Alabama and Auburn seems to know no bounds – within the state, they like to joke that the rivalry can break up marriages – but Updyke (or whoever brought down the trees, if he turns out to be not guilty) found the line and obliterated it. An occasional outbreak of petty vandalism comes with the territory. He destroyed the territory.
Put it this way: Whatever you're going for, when the result forces Alabama's president, Alabama blogs and the daughter of Alabama's head coach to express sincere sympathy with Alabama's most hated rival, you have seriously miscalculated.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.
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