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Man charged in Auburn tree case

AUBURN, Ala. — Down the block from the dying Toomer's Corner oaks, where Auburn fans have long celebrated big wins, Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson gave a candid opinion about the man accused of poisoning the 130-year-old trees.

"This is a person who obviously has problems to do something like this," Dawson said.

Harvey Almorn Updyke Jr., 62, of Dadeville was arrested Thursday and charged with one count of first-degree criminal mischief, a felony. He admitted making two calls claiming knowledge of the poisoning but later denied doing the poisoning, court documents said.

Dawson said Updyke could face other charges. "We're talking with several federal agencies to determine what charges are appropriate here and the direction we need to go with it," he said at a news conference.

Bond was set at $50,000. If convicted, Updyke could face one to 10 years in prison. His court-appointed attorney, Philip Tyler, filed a motion to withdraw from the case, citing his former job as a part-time Auburn professor and "numerous" family and personal ties.

Updyke remained at the Lee County Detention Center.

A man calling himself "Al from Dadeville" called a radio show Jan. 27 and said he poured the herbicide Spike 80DF to poison the trees, which are rolled with toilet paper after football victories. He said he was an Alabama fan who did it in response to Auburn fans placing a jersey of Tigers QB Cam Newton on a statue of former Crimson Tide coach "Bear" Bryant after the Iron Bowl, which Auburn won 28-27. He signed off by saying, "Roll Damn Tide." Updyke has children named Bear and Crimson, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Updyke admitted to calling the show and to leaving a phone message for an Auburn professor claiming knowledge of the poisoning, court documents said.

Dadeville is a rural town about 30 minutes from Auburn.

The trees were poisoned with Spike 80DF, which is used to kill trees. Stephen Enloe, an assistant professor of agronomy and soil, said consultation with experts indicated there is "a very low probability" the trees will survive.

Gary Keever, a horticulture professor, said another fear is the herbicide spreads and damages surrounding vegetation. He said Spike 80DF can sometimes inhibit growth for as long as seven years.

Orange and blue pompoms were laid at the base of the cordoned-off trees along with flowers and messages, including "Get well soon" and "PLEASE GOD SAVE THESE TREES."

"We're from Alabama, you can't make this (expletive) up," Auburn alum Charles Barkley told ESPN.com. "Some things just happen there, and people want to know why we rank 48th in education. It's just sad."

Man charged in Auburn tree case 02/17/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 18, 2011 12:02am]
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