Town offers reward to catch tree vandal

Published 11:18 am Tuesday, November 1, 2022

WASHINGTON PARK — When Washington Park mayor Tom Richter was alerted that a group of trees had been cut from the town’s waterfront, he was perplexed.

The trees, around 20 small pines planted around 15 years ago, offered protection against storm erosion. Their root mass had helped preserve the riverbank soils along a stretch of moss-covered tree line, the signature feature of one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Beaufort County.

Who would do such a thing? And in the middle of the night.

He immediately asked neighbors, but said he couldn’t fathom that any of the long-time residents would want the trees removed or be involved.

He considered teenage mischief, but this, as he says, was “serious business.” The crime could carry felony charges, according to local law enforcement. And the nature of the cuts — the trees were felled quickly, quietly and all dropped neatly in the same direction — led him to think the perpetrator was experienced, perhaps using an electric or battery-powered chainsaw.

“No one reported hearing anything,” said Belinda Cowell, the town board member responsible for landscaping and beautification. “It remains a mystery.”

Frustrated with the lack of answers, Richter reached out to Beaufort County Crime Stoppers.

“We’re obviously very concerned about the wanton, malicious destruction of any town property,” Richter said. “This is particularly egregious because the shoreline is so important.”

Through Crime Stoppers, the Town of Washington Park is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and/or prosecution of those responsible for cutting down the trees.

The crime occurred between after dark Sunday, July 10 and the early morning hours of Monday, July 11.

The town erected a large sign detailing the reward on Riverside Drive near where the trees were cut down.

Richter and Cowell said eventually the trees will be replaced after consultation with Beaufort County’s Cooperative Extension.

In the mean time, they’re hoping the reward will trigger a break in the case.

“We hope the community will keep their ears open,” Richter said. “Someone’s going to squeal.”

If you have information related to this crime, contact Beaufort County Crime Stoppers in the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office at 252-974-6400 or email stoppers@co.beaufort.nc.us. Crime Stopper information is confidential.