September 26, 2023

Charges upgraded in Houlton bridge vandalism

HOULTON – The crime drew the ire of town officials at a meeting earlier this week, and now the perpetrators who allegedly vandalized the town’s pedestrian footbridge have drawn further attention from local law enforcement.

A second juvenile – a 17-year-old male – has been charged in connection with the July 14 vandalism of the Gateway Crossing bridge, Detective Troy Fitzpatrick of the Houlton Police Department said Thursday.

The 17-year-old and two additional suspects – David Vierra, 26, of Houlton and a 16-year-old male – have been charged with aggravated criminal mischief, a felony, stemming from the crime.

Vierra and the 16-year-old were summoned on charges of criminal mischief in the hours after the damage to the bridge was discovered. At the time, police could not place an exact dollar figure on the amount of damage that was done to the trestle.

Cpl. Tom Donahue, the primary investigator of the incident, said at the time that police were looking to question another juvenile in connection with the vandalism.

All three suspects are believed responsible for allegedly destroying several storyboards that were affixed near the railings of the bridge and also smashing a light pole near the site.

Although charges of criminal mischief initially were filed, Fitzpatrick said Thursday that the charges had been upgraded to aggravated criminal mischief because close to $3,000 in damage was done to the footbridge.

Under state law, criminal mischief can rise to the level of aggravated if the property damaged or destroyed exceeds $2,000 in value.

Aggravated criminal mischief is a Class C crime, punishable by up to five years in prison.

The 187-foot trestle, christened the Gateway Crossing bridge, stretches from the North Street Bridge across the Meduxnekeag River. It opened to pedestrians in 2005.

The storyboards are large placards detailing information and photos depicting important moments in town history. More than a dozen of them were placed along the footbridge and throughout the nearby park.

Because the alleged vandals damaged planks that linked the storyboards together, all of the placards had to be taken down while the planks are repaired.

The vandalism forced police to close the bridge for approximately four hours while crews worked to clean up the damage and to assure that the electrical wiring that powers the lights was safe.

Town officials said earlier this week that the footbridge will be repaired. Crews already have begun to repair some of the damage done to the bridge, and Town Manager Douglas Hazlett said that the perpetrators will be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law.”

Fitzpatrick said that police also wanted to strongly relay the message that such property crimes will not be tolerated in Houlton.

“We have zero tolerance for any property crimes,” he said.

The town now is looking at additional ways to secure the footbridge. Hazlett said that additional security features – such as surveillance cameras – are being looked into.

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