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Vandals hit county parks

The Sheriff's Office is stepping up patrols near Citrus County parks after vandalism tarnished three county-owned properties in a five-day span.

County parks officials found graffiti and damaged bathrooms at facilities in Floral City, Beverly Hills and Citrus Springs, according to incident reports.

The first vandalism was reported on Thanksgiving at Floral Park, where county staff members found the men's and women's bathrooms damaged and a security light broken.

On Monday, a public service officer found the Beverly Hills Skate Park trashed. Investigators said toilet seats were spray-painted and there was graffiti depicting naked people on the bathroom walls.

On Tuesday, Wesley Jones Park in Citrus Springs was vandalized. Reports say graffiti was discovered on the bathrooms, the exterior of the building, the sidewalk and the basketball court.

Also, burn marks, possibly from a cigarette lighter, were spotted in the bathroom, a chain link fence in the parking lot was damaged and a bronze memorial marker was overturned.

A recent spate of vandalism at the Bicentennial Skate Park in Crystal River prompted city officials last week to curtail the facility's operating hours. The park is now open from dawn to dusk, and its use is strictly enforced by the county Parks and Recreation Department and local law enforcement.

Jessica Lambert, a spokeswoman for the county, said the vandalism has been a persistent issue, especially as the county continues to grow and use of the parks increases.

"What we are facing is growth, and the parks are more heavily used," she said. That means more risk for vandalism to take place.

Gail Tierney, a spokeswoman with the Sheriff's Office, said deputies would patrol all area parks in response to the recent crimes.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or 860-7312.

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