Man Accused of Damaging Des Moines Holiday Lights Displays

KCCI.com

DES MOINES, Iowa — Police said a clue left behind at a damaged holiday lights display pointed them in the right direction to solving the case.


Police said Justin Arey, 20, of Des Moines was charged with first-degree criminal mischief. Arey was taken to the Polk County Jail.

Police said a security guard for Water Works found a license plate among the damaged light displays at Jolly Holiday Lights early Sunday morning.

Officers said they drove to the home of the license plate owner and found the vehicle at the home had damage that was consistent with damage done to the light displays and the gate into Water Works Park.

Officers spoke with the owner of the vehicle who they said admitted driving his vehicle through and into the displays.

Police said damages estimates to Jolly Holiday Light displays are $25,000-$30,000 and additional $500 damage to the gate at Water Works.

Police said 15-20 of the displays were damaged.

For 17 years, Jolly Holiday Lights have lit up Des Moines and the spirits of sick children, but the display wasn't as bright Sunday night after vandals broke into the park where the lights are displayed.

Proceeds from Jolly Holiday Lights benefit the Make-A-Wish foundation, which benefits sick children.

Authorities said a private security company that patrols the park found significant damage to the display about 3 a.m., and the guards witnessed the vandals driving away.

Make-A-Wish Foundation President Rob Kelly said the vandals broke in through a gate, and they apparently drove at a high speed through the park, ramming into the display and pulling up signs.

"You could tell that people were in the car doing some damage -- and out of the car because some of it had to be getting out of the car," Kelly said.

When volunteers arrived at 8 a.m., they saw the damage.

"Just very disheartened, disillusioned, you know, it's just heart-wrenching," volunteer Al Knudsen said.

Volunteers quickly went to work, hauling away pieces that couldn't be salvaged onto a trailer and taking them to storage. The display pieces that could be saved were fixed, and the signs and banners re-staked.

A supplier in New York was also contacted about replacements, and work is under way to replace the parts that were destroyed.

"We're trying to do the best we can to put back up what we can and clear away what's been damaged beyond repair," Kelly said.

It's not the first time vandals have struck. In September 2011, thieves broke into the park and stripped copper wire from power poles and boxes, causing about $20,000 in damage.

Make-A-Wish replaced the copper with aluminum, but Kelly said thieves returned again and broke locks on those boxes only to find the change in conduit.

If cash was the original motive, it's not known what led to the damage

"Obviously, whoever did this has no concept of what it means," Knudsen said.

Make-A-Wish officials said the show will continue. The foundation grants a wish to a child in Iowa every other day, and Jolly Holiday Lights funds 25 percent of those wishes each year.
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