Auburn Police match Placer High vandal's graffiti evidence to a tee

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Hand-written scrawl on a Placer High School student’s T-shirt helped collar a tagger Auburn Police say is responsible for a rash of graffiti vandalism around the city. School Resource Officer David Neher made the connection between the symbols on one student’s T-shirt and the felt-pen and spray-painted tagging on several walls, buildings and garbage receptacles. Neher questioned the student with the T-shirt and that led to a 17-year-old Placer High student, who eventually admitted being responsible for a series of graffiti vandalism incidents. Detective Sgt. Dave Lawicka said Thursday that the juvenile, who can’t be identified by police under state regulations because he’s under 18, is now facing a string of misdemeanor counts related to the vandalism. “It’s a nuisance for us and a burden on taxpayers, the city and business owners – as well as being unsightly,” Lawicka said. The vandalism by the one tagger was spread out and included targets near Old Town, adjacent to the Gold Country Fairgrounds, near E.V. Cain Middle School and along the boardwalk walkway near Palm Avenue and Auburn Ravine Road. The “moniker” tag melded with other graffiti along a wall behind the Sears store near the corner of Fulweiler and Highway 49. It’s a secluded area behind stores that has been known to E.V. Cain students for years as “Smoker’s Corner.” Luke Baehr, a Sears employee, said sections of the building have been painted over several times. “I feel bad for the kids who get into it but I’m glad when they get caught,” Baehr said. While Baehr pointed to one series of letters -- “XIV” – attributed to Nortenos gang members, Lawicka said the work of the Placer High student was not gang-related. “I understand kids want to do their little rebellion thing but the whole community suffers – it degrades the whole community,” Baehr said. On his way to the Auburn Skate Park with his father, 16-year-old Dylan McGraw of Foresthill said that graffiti does have its place – on buildings where it is allowed. “It can be like a mural,” McGraw said. “Sometimes graffiti is being done by teens trying to express themselves or showing a sign of territory. Or it could be gang signs.” Or the graffiti could be there because a youth wants to show off artistic skills. “But I don’t like it when the graffiti is on a building that’s not theirs,” he said. Joseph Tucciarone, owner of Fairgate Car Wash near the Gold Country Fairgrounds, said his business seems to be a perennial target. “When it’s significant, I make the call to the police,” Tucciarone said. “And I keep the paint handy.” Tucciarone said he’s built up his resistance to getting emotional about another bout of vandalism striking the car wash but admits that when graffiti struck a boulder in the American River canyon, he did get emotional. A hiker and cyclist, he brought cleaning materials down to the confluence and scrubbed the offending message off. Tucciarone pointed to another set of letters – “FML” – on the wall of a neighboring business as an indication of the psychology of at least one graffiti vandal. The initials are a derivative of “Forget My Life.” He said he’s also extremely disappointed when murals like one painted by well-known artist Stan Padilla in Downtown Auburn are tagged. Auburn Police say they have identified other suspects involved in tagging, including recent graffiti found throughout the Auburn Town Center on Elm Avenue. Damage from the high school student’s “moniker” spree is expected to cost $2,000 in cleanup and repair. The Placer High School campus was also hit. It’s a small price tag in relation to what amounts to a billion-dollar crime problem. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates the cost of graffiti cleanup at $12 billion annually. Foresthill’s Gari McGraw, father of Dylan, said he has an idea that could stop some of the problem – sprinklers controlled by a motion detector that spray walls when a tagger approaches. Auburn Police are asking the public to help on a much simpler level. If someone sees graffiti or any suspicious activity within the city, they should call Auburn Police to report it. And Neher can be reached at (530) 823-4237 Ext. 263 to handle reports on possible information about a graffiti offender.