Vandals who dunked equipment still being sought

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 24, 1999

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / February 24, 1999

RESERVE – A $300,000 piece of rented earth-moving equipment lay half- tipped over and submerged in muddy muck, 2,000 feet south of Interstate 10. Job superintendent Rex Gray of WHC Inc. in Reserve shook his head.”It was stupid, and it was dangerous,” he commented.

By Saturday afternoon, the equipment had been salvaged and Gray felt a little better. “We’re going to come out all right,” he added, saying thevandalism delayed the project only about a week.

“It wouldn’t run, but it seems like the only problem is some body damage, as the door is bent,” Gray said Tuesday.

Gray is hopeful some teen-ager’s mother will check their laundry and find an unusually filthy set of clothing and call the St. John Parish Sheriff’sOffice.

On Feb. 15, sometime between 4 and 5:30 p.m., at least two people visitedthe job site west of the Reserve Relief Canal. One climbed into the cab ofa Caterpillar excavator parked on a log mat.

The excavator was started up, pivoted and driven off the mat into the canal dug for the pipeline. Gray said the equipment is relatively easy tooperate, with two pedals and two levers attached to the pedals.

Once in the muck, with water pouring into the cab, the vandal escaped from a roof hatch, likely assisted by a second person. “It was a prettysmall guy came out that hatch,” Gray commented. “I think he had helpgetting out.”The excavator was being used to dig a 7.2-mile ethylene pipeline forEquillon (the Shell/Texaco company) to connect the Garyville Epsilon plant to an existing pipeline.

Gray said the work crew had finished work on the evening of Feb. 13 andwas off work Feb. 14. At 4 p.m. on Feb. 15, two workers went out to thejob site and saw the untouched excavator. At 5:30 p.m., the vandalism wasdiscovered.

The excavator, rented from World Wide Equipment of Houston, Texas, is valued at $300,000. Gray said it would take “a couple of days” to movesalvage equipment back to the remote area, accessible only by boat.

On Saturday at 7 a.m., the equipment arrived at the accident scene and by1:30 p.m., the excavator had been recovered from the muck. Gray examinedthe excavator afterward and commented: “The motor is OK and it needs a charge. The switch is out. But it wasn’t too bad.”The work superintendent didn’t comment much on the person or persons who wrecked the excavator. He did say he wishes he could have found himbefore he got away.

“I’m sure he was a scared person,” Gray observed, adding: “I don’t think an experienced operator would have done that. I believe they would haveknown the danger.”A reward is being contemplated by the company for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the vandals who wrecked the equipment.

Meanwhile, information as to one or two persons in a boat on the Reserve Relief Canal on the afternoon of Feb. 15 is being sought by the St. JohnSheriff’s Office. Phone Lt. C.J. Destor at 652-6338.

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