Man arrested for poisoning Auburn's historic oaks

In this Jan. 10, 2011, photo, Auburn fans gather at Toomer's Corner in Auburn, Ala., following Auburn's win over Oregon in the BCS championship football game in Glendale, Ariz. Auburn University says someone deliberately poisoned trees at Toomer's Corner, and that the live oaks likely can't be saved. The university said in a statement Wednesday, Feb. 16, that a herbicide commonly used to kill trees was applied "in lethal amounts" to the soil around the trees. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

February 17, 2011 1:04:30 PM PST
A 62-year-old Dadeville man has been arrested in connection with the poisoning of the historic Toomer's Corner oak trees at Auburn University.

Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson said Harvey Almorn Updyke Jr. was arrested at the police station at 1:26 a.m. Thursday and was charged with one count of criminal mischief first degree. He said Updyke could face other charges, but would not confirm that the Dadeville man turned himself in. He said he arrived at the jail without an attorney.

A spokeswoman for the Lee County Sheriff Office said Updyke was arrested early Thursday morning and charged with one count of first-degree criminal mischief.

Bond was set at $50,000. If convicted, Updyke could face one to 10 years in prison.

A man claiming to be "Al from Dadeville" phoned a radio show late last month, claiming he poured herbicide around the 130-year-old oaks that are the scene of celebrations after Auburn's sports victories.

Dawson would not confirm that Updyke was the person who called the radio show.

Dozens of students and fans attended a news conference held by university and city officials Thursday morning on campus. The two nearby oaks still had remnants of toilet paper from groups of fans who gathered at Toomer's Corner Thursday night after hearing of the poisoning.

Orange and blue pompoms were laid at the base of the trees along with signs, including one that read "get well soon."

Stephen Enloe, an assistant professor of agronomy and soil, said consultation with herbicide experts around the country indicated that there was a "low probability" that the trees will survive. The trees were poisoned with a herbicide Spike 80DF, that is used to kill trees.

Gary Keever, a horticulture professor, said Thursday that Spike 80DF can sometimes inhibit growth for as long as seven years.

He said one possible cure would be to excavate and replace the soil. Keever said workers started treating the soil Thursday morning and are still looking for other solutions.