Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – Arcata Police made quick work of a case of costly vandalism in the Arcata Community Forest on Monday.
A suspect, Alexander Peterson, 27, of Oregon, was cited for felony vandalism shortly after the damage was discovered.
The vandalism involved an attack on timber harvest equipment owned by contractor Diamond R Ranch in the Arcata Community Forest. Fire extinguishers and oil were sprayed and poured into the cab of both machines, according to Police Chief Brian Ahearn, with hydraulic fluid poured into the gas tank.
A trail cam trained on the logging vehicles captured "crystal clear" images of a suspect tampering with it Friday night. The vandalism, discovered Monday morning, halted work on this year's timber harvest for the first part of the day. Operations resumed that afternoon.
The break in the case came as police were headed up to the forest to look for the suspect. En route, Officer Evan Beechel spotted someone driving at Seventh and Union streets who resembled the person in the trail cam photos.
The individual was pulled over for a vehicle code violation and asked about the vandalism. According to APD Park Ranger Heidi Groszmann, Peterson readily admitted having damaged the vehicles, citing environmental concern.
"He loves the trees and wanted to delay the trees being cut," Groszmann said. He was cited for felony vandalism and released. Only violent felonies result in incarceration under current law.
Peterson has 45 days – until Oct. 5 – to contact the court and arrange for his arraignment. Should he fail to do so, an arrest warrant will be issued.
"We were really lucky to find this person," Groszmann said. "You don't generally get that."
She described Peterson as a homeless transient who passes through Arcata once a year. Tuesday morning, she was headed back to the forest to look for his illegal campsite.
Damage to the heavy equipment was limited, because the vandal inadvertently helped minimize the damage. He the left emptied-out hydraulic fluid container atop the exhaust pipe, Ahearn said. This indicated to city staffmembers and the logging crew that something was amiss.
"Hence, they did not start the engines, which prevented the fluid from being distributed throughout the engine." Ahearn said.
Groszmann said no immediate dollar figure for the damage was available, but it would likely be a few thousand dollars once personnel costs to clean up and investigate the matter are factored in, as well as the delay to the logging operation.
"Great teamwork all the way around," Ahearn said.
More trail cam and City of Arcata photos: