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Man Charged in Auburn U Live Oaks Poisoning; Trees Given ‘Very Low Probability’ to Survive

Posted Feb 17, 2011 4:12 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Updated: With the help of forensic science, authorities say, they have identified and criminally charged a man who allegedly poisoned iconic live oaks at Toomer's Corner by Auburn University that play a critical role in the institution's preparation for its annual football game against its archrival, the University of Alabama.

Details are still sketchy about how authorities got from a Jan. 27 talk radio broadcast— in which "Al from Dadeville" claimed to have poisoned the trees with herbicide Spike 80DF the weekend after Auburn edged out Alabama 28-27 in November—to filing a criminal mischief case against 62-year-old Harvey Almorn Updyke Jr.

However, 33 soil samples tested after the university learned of the claimed crime showed "very lethal" levels of Spike 80DF. The herbicide has never been used by Auburn, university officials say. They are working with the manufacturer to figure out the best way to try to reverse the damage. Meanwhile, within 90 minutes of the announcement, students gathered at Toomer's Corner to toss toilet paper at the trees (a traditional victory ritual) and chant school cheers, CNN reported.

The Press-Register reports that Updyke has a Dadeville mailing address but actually lives outside the boundaries of the city of 3,200. Police say his radio moniker is "Al from Dadeville."

Asked what chance of survival the 130-year-old live oak stand might have, assistant professor of agronomy Stephen Enloe said he would like to hold out hope for them. But, given the high concentration of the herbicide, believes they have "a very low probability" of survival. It is unclear how long they might take to die, he told CNN.

Updyke was arrested early this morning and is being held in lieu of $50,000 bail, the Auburn Plainsman reports. Additional charges may be filed against him.

If convicted of criminal mischief, he could be sentenced to between one and 10 years, according to the Fabulous Forum blog of the Los Angeles Times.

An attorney appointed today to represent Updyke, who is indigent, has already filed a motion to withdraw (PDF), reports WSFA. In the pleading, attorney Philip Tyler says his law firm represents the university and he teaches there as an adjunct.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Man, 61, Gets 5 Years for ‘Arborcide’"

ABAJournal.com: "1st Calif. Conviction Over Too-Shady Trees"

ABAJournal.com: "Probation Chopped to Four Minutes in Tree-Cutting Case"

Updated at 3:28 p.m. to include information about court-appointed attorney's motion to withdraw.

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