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Deputies arrest 4 in stadium vandalism

Four Powell Middle School students were arrested on Tuesday after they were accused of using a BB gun to shoot out some of the stadium lights at Springstead High School more than a week ago, authorities said.

The students, who range in age from 11 to 15, were charged in connection with the Sept. 11 incident that cost roughly $6,000 in damage, according to an arrest report.

Each faces one felony count of criminal mischief. The four told a detective they scaled two 60-foot light stanchions at Springstead High School's Booster Stadium and removed all of the lenses and bulbs on the east side of the stadium, the report stated. The St. Petersburg Times is withholding the names of the suspects because of their ages.

"I'm really excited about these guys getting caught," said Springstead athletic director Bob Levija, who was one of the first to discover the broken lights on Sept. 11. "They did quite a bit of damage."

In all, 27 light bulbs were destroyed. But the time and effort it took for workers to clean slivers of glass from the playing field likely increased the damage estimates.

Authorities think the four boys climbed onto a fence that separates the bleachers from the playing field. Once there, they apparently reached for a ladder to climb up and removed the lens covers.

With a BB gun, they shot out the lights, which caused glass to rain onto the field, the report stated.

A jogger noticed shattered glass strewn across the field on Sept. 11 and contacted school officials.

During the initial investigation, Springstead High principal Susan Duval speculated that several students upset about being transferred to Nature Coast Technical High School may have caused the damage. Levija offered a $500 reward for information that would lead to the arrest of the culprits.

"A lot of the football players thought it was someone from Central," Levija said.

Springstead played one of the biggest games of the season against the Central High School Bears on Friday.

"But I knew that this wasn't a Central kid that did this," Levija said. "Central is too classy of a place to do that. I thought it was probably an ex-Springstead kid."

According to sheriff's spokeswoman Deputy Donna Black, authorities managed to track down the alleged suspects at Powell after their classmates reported that the boys had bragged about destroying school property.

It was unclear whether the students were suspended for their alleged role in the criminal mischief. Powell principal Michael Ransaw did not return telephone calls seeking comment on Wednesday.

The arrest report provided no details about why the four middle schoolers allegedly went to Springstead and broke the stadium's lights. The boys lived in the neighborhoods around the school.

Sheriff's deputies recovered a black and brown rifle and 35 pellets. They also recovered two Smirnoff Ice bottles, one of which was processed for latent fingerprints, the report stated.

"It was just a total act of vandalism," Black said. "There was no rhyme or reason. It was just something to do. It was not done in retaliation."

The third-degree felony carries a potential penalty of fines and up to five years in prison because the offense led to a massive cleanup and rendered the lights inoperable.

Under the state's criminal mischief statute, a juvenile suspect's parent or guardian is liable along with the minors for the payment of the fines.

The students were booked into the Hernando County Jail on Tuesday and later released into the custody of their parents about 6:30 p.m.

Staff writer Emily Nipps contributed to this report. Duane Bourne can be reached at (352) 754-6114 or dbournesptimes.com.

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