Arrest made in Auburn Toomer's Corner trees poisoning

Arrest made in Auburn Toomer's Corner trees poisoning

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Harvey Almorn Updyke (photo source Auburn Police Dept.) Harvey Almorn Updyke (photo source Auburn Police Dept.)

AUBURN, AL (WBRC) - A man has been arrested in connection with the poisoning of trees at Toomer's Corner in Auburn.

Auburn police said Harvey Almorn Updyke, 62, of Dadeville, was arrested at 1:26 a.m. Thursday on a warrant charging him with criminal mischief.  Investigators said his arrest stems from an investigation involving the application of herbicide to the oak trees located at Toomer's Corner in the downtown area.

Updyke was transported to the Lee County Detention Center where he appeared in court.

The judge set Updyke's bond at $50,000.

Investigators began looking for Updyke after a caller to the Paul Finebaum Radio Network said he had poisoned the trees. Finebaum said a man calling himself "Al from Dadeville" called the show on January 27 claiming to have poisoned the trees. The man said he poisoned the trees the week after last year's Iron Bowl because he said he saw a newspaper clipping from 1983 showing Auburn fans rolling Toomer's Corner the day former Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant died.

Updyke's arrest was announced Thursday morning in a news conference on the Auburn University campus.

"Person obviously has problems to do something like this," Auburn's police chief said.

Auburn University Vice President Debbie Shaw said the news of the poisoning was a shock to the school.

"We've all been hurt," Shaw said.

In a court affidavit filed Thursday, Lee County District Attorney Robert Treese asked the court to add the following conditions towards a bond for Updyke:

-- Prohibit him from entering the Auburn University campus
-- Prohibit him from possessing any firearms, weapons, or any toxic or dangerous chemicals, substances, or herbicdes
-- Mandate he enter an anger management program

The affidavit showed Updyke to be a father of one, seperated from his wife. In addition, authorities stated in the affidavit Updyke admitted Thursday morning after his arrest to making the telephone call to the Paul Finebaum Radio Network in January where he admitted to the poisoning.  However, the affidavit said Updyke later denied to police he actually poisoned the trees.

The affidavit says Auburn University estimates the cost of repairing any damages and controlling the spread of the herbicide in excess of $2,500.00.

Stephen Enloe, Asst. Professor Agronomy and Soils, became very emotional Thursday when talking about chances the trees will survive.

"I always want to hold out hope," Enloe said. "We're gonna get the experts together and look at the ideas that have been proposed."

Officials said there was "very little chance" the herbicide would impact drinking water sources.

Wednesday, Auburn University announced the oak trees at Toomer's Corner had been given a lethal dose of herbacide.  School officials said horticulturalists were attempting to save the trees, but did not believe the trees would survive.

Thursday, University of Alabama officials told FOX6 News Updyke was never a student at the University of Alabama nor was he a football season ticket holder.

Less than 12 hours after his arrest, a "Free Harvey" Facebook page was created. In addition, students organized a "Tooomer's Tree Hug" Facebook event scheduled for Saturday from noon to 3 p.m.

Thursday afternoon, Philip Tyler, Updyke's court-appointed attorney, filed a motion to be removed from the case. In the motion, Tyler claimed several conflicts of interest, including the fact he is a former part-time professor for Auburn University and his law firm represents Auburn University.

The Auburn Police Division said it received assistance in the investigation from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Marshals Service, State of Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (Pesticide Management Section), Tallapoosa County Sheriff's Office, Dadeville Police Department, and Auburn University.    

For more information, please visit auburn.edu/oaks.

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