Backhoed: Vandals trash Monticello graduation

Monticello High has never had an outdoor graduation since it opened its doors in 1998, and this year's senior class had its fingers crossed for one. The chairs and stage were already set up on the football field in anticipation that the weather gods would smile at 10am Saturday, June 5.

Lead custodian Simon Parker had worked Friday afternoon to have everything perfect for the Class of 2004. But it was another factor that would squash plans for an outside graduation.

When Parker showed up at 5:45am Saturday with Principal Billy Haun, the football field no longer contained the orderly rows of 300 chairs he'd set up the day before.

In fact, a backhoe now rested on top of the chairs. And its rampage from a nearby construction project left the field gored, damaging the sprinkler system. The goal posts were knocked down. Nor did the running track escape damage. And in a final insult, the vandals hurled mud upon the stage.

Initial estimates of damage were put at $100,000. That number has been revised down to between $65,000 and $75,000. Estimates for damage to the track alone are about $43,000, according to Haun.

"Stupid and senseless," is how Albemarle County spokesperson Lee Catlin describes the deed, which has prompted a $1,000 reward from the school and the Monticello Boosters Club for information leading to arrest and conviction.

"Police will be anxious to charge someone as aggressively as possible," says Catlin. "This is not a childish prank."

Sgt. Duane Karr with the Albemarle police says typical graduation antics are running something up the flagpole or painting a sign.

The perps at Monticello High could be facing a couple of felony charges: destruction of public property and possible grand larceny of the backhoe, according to Karr.

Police are looking at a couple of leads. "Somebody knows something," says Karr. "We just want them to come forward and tell what they know, and we'll put it together."

Another heavy-equipment-run-amok incident took place in Granby, Colorado, June 4. A man in a homemade, armored bulldozer demolished or heavily damaged at least five buildings to protest a zoning dispute before shooting himself. It is not known whether that rampage influenced the Monticello High 'dozing spree.

June 5 was Mary Slosson's graduation day, and she was not happy about the devastation. "I had a pretty strong reaction," she says. "I ran track for four years at Monticello High School." To see the damaged track, "It angered me," she says.

And the reaction of her fellow grads? "Disbelief that one of our classmates would do something like that."

Despite the befouling of the field, Slosson says the graduation ceremony still had a good feel and still was celebratory.

"But it was a shame somebody had to do that," she adds.

"A lot of students were very angry," says Haun. The Monticello High football team came in second in the state, and he imagines it a bitter pill for the 17 graduating football players to see what had been done to their field.

Haun notes that many people in the community use the taxpayer-funded track, as well. "I'm angry, too," says the principal.

Perhaps the person or persons responsible may want to skip those first few reunions of the Class of 2004.

Party gone out of bounds: A senior prank turns into a felony and mars the Class of 2004 graduation at Monticello High June 5.