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Vandalism victim searches for answers

September 29, 2011

Despite a $1000 reward for information, the names of vandals who last spring flipped a car belonging to a UW-River Falls professor remain a mystery.

Brian Smith, a professor of plant and earth sciences and owner of the vandalized car, is still offering the reward. He said that he hopes the money will entice students to break their silence at a time when tuition expenses are coming due.

“I wish there was a better way of encouraging people to come forward,” Smith said. “But $1000 is a lot of money towards an education.”

The overturned car was discovered Sunday, May 15, 2011. Smith said he was eating breakfast at his home when he got a call from University Police. They told him that his 1986 Dodge Colt hatchback was found vandalized next to the greenhouse located behind the Agricultural Science building.

“I knew right away it was a major prank or something,” Smith said. “I went up there as quick as I could.”

He found the vehicle heavily damaged. The driver side window was smashed, the windshield had multiple cracks, the roof was crushed in and the engine was leaking oil, according to a University Police incident report.

Police also noticed two 8 foot fence posts near the vehicle that they suspect were used as a lever to flip the car on its roof.

“Whoever did that was pretty darned determined,” Smith said.

Smith said that he thinks the vandals were hoping to get the car, which was parked on a slight dirt incline, to roll into the street. It appeared that they smashed a window to access and release the emergency brake. But the vehicle curved instead, coming to a stop when it hit the foundation of the greenhouse. That is when Smith said that he believes the vandals concocted the lever.

“They must have taken the posts out of my nursery area and used them for leverage to flip it,” Smith said.

The 1986 model of the Dodge Colt weighs about 1 ton, but is a relatively small car. Smith said that the lever system the vandals used would have made it possible for as few as two people to flip the car on its roof.

Although Smith used the car to transport parts and equipment between the greenhouse and the Campus Lab Farm, it does not belong to UWRF. Because it is privately owned, Smith had to pay to have the vehicle towed and repaired with his own money.

“I had to have them jack up the roof, put in a new windshield and put in a new door,” Smith said. In total the repairs cost him over $900.

Smith said that he believes the timing of the incident may be important. The 2011 spring commencement ceremony was held May 14, the day before the car was discovered. Smith said it is possible the vandalism was linked to graduation and the end of the spring semester.

University Police Officer Steven Nygaard said there were several cases of vehicle vandalism last year, but they are not tracking any patterns regarding the timing of such vandalism. If the vandals were graduating seniors, Smith said he is afraid they may have moved away from River Falls. But he said that he remains confident that somebody in the area still knows something.

“Even if they were a senior, they’re going to brag about it,” Smith said. “Somebody does know, and they’re just not talking.” Smith said he will continue to search for the truth as a matter of principle.

“It’s not a mischievous prank, it’s malicious,” Smith said. “I don’t care how much you think it’s fun, but it’s just not acceptable in society.”

Persons with information regarding the vandalism can contact Brian Smith at brian.r.smith@uwrf.edu.