- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Vandals have been breaking and stealing fiberglass images of the Virginia Tech mascot, Hokie Bird, placed across the region.

A group of University of Virginia students are involved in one of the most recent crimes, which police say began soon after the 5—feet-tall images went on display in May 2006 as part of a fundraising project.

Eight to 10 fraternity pledges at the university admitted to a dean that they made a road trip from Charlottesville to Blacksburg the night of March 23 and ripped “Farmer Hokie” off his base in front of the town’s municipal building, said Carol Wood, the university’s assistant vice president for public affairs.

Mrs. Wood told the Roanoke Times that she did not know the name of the fraternity involved nor the names of the students.

“If students do something like this, we want them to take full responsibility and to be accountable for what they do,” she said.

Mrs. Wood also said the students wrote a letter of apology to the Blacksburg Partnership, which owns the bird, and offered to pay $10,000 for repairs.

The fraternity has been trying to negotiate with the partnership about the incident, said Bill Aden, the group’s president. He said the partnership considers the damage a crime and hopes charges will be filed.

Lt. Bruce Bradbery of the Blacksburg Police Department is expected to make an announcement about the case in a few days.

Police estimate the bird statues are worth about $7,500. Smashing a bird statue could result in a charge of felony destruction of property, and stealing one is grand larceny, Lt. Bradbery said.

Gwynn Hamilton, a Giles County artist and farmer who painted “Farmer Hokie,” said she will try to help repair the statue if it is recovered. Only its feet are left in front of the building.

In a separate incident, an unidentified male was seen kicking a Hokie Bird statue displayed on the lawn of the Rainbow Riders day care center early Saturday, Lt. Bradbery said. The vandal fled before police arrived.

Blacksburg children, including some from the day care center, had drawn and painted more than 200 flowers to decorate the bird, titled “Cultivating Learning,” center Director Kristi Snyder said.

She said some children asked their teachers about the statue Monday, as the bird lay shattered on the ground.

More than 70 statues painted by artists have been put on display, then sold for $5,000 to $15,000 each in the Gobble de Art project for the partnership, a nonprofit organization that works with Blacksburg officials on economic development.

The number of cases of vandalism and theft of the birds has surprised partnership officials. Director Diane Akers said vandalism rates seemed to be low for similar projects involving mascots in other college towns, including bulldogs in Athens, Ga.

Two Virginia Tech students will go before a grand jury this month in another Hokie Bird incident.

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