Pranksters target veterans fountain

Wednesday, January 2, 2002

BELLEVILLE, Ill. -- Pranksters who throw soap or dye into the Veterans Memorial Fountain next summer may find themselves on candid camera.

They won't be taped for an episode of "America's Funniest Home Videos;" it will be more like "Belleville's Most Wanted."

City Maintenance Department Supervisor Bill Lugge said he is considering installing surveillance cameras to catch vandals who do thousands of dollars worth of damage each year to the monument, which is such a symbol of Belleville that it appears on city stationery.

"We have to do something to stop these people," Lugge said. "Every year it gets worse. And that's not even considering the people who hit the fountain with their cars or trucks and then just drive away."

Lugge, who is a Vietnam veteran, said he is perplexed about why anyone would want to vandalize a monument to military veterans. It costs the city nearly $400 each time he has to go through the eight-hour process of draining the fountain, scrubbing it out, refilling it with water and treating it with chemicals.

Lugge said he lost count how many times that happened last year. Whenever vandals or hit-and-run drivers are caught by alert motorists or other eyewitnesses, they are fined at least $500.

"It's an unfortunate situation," Lugge said. "Last year on Father's Day, I ended up being the only one on call, and they threw soap in it. I spent eight hours cleaning it, then they did it again later the same day."

Harsh chemicals in the soaps and dyes thrown in the fountain are suspected of damaging the pumps that make it work, Lugge said.

Alderman Joe Shively said he would have to know how much a surveillance system costs before he decides whether to back the idea. But he said it is obvious that police and maintenance workers need help in protecting the fountain.

"They're too busy right now as it is," Shively said. "They've got plenty to do besides watching the fountain all night for some goofball to come by and throw a bucket of soap in. I'm interested in anything that's a deterrent to causing the city to spend money that it shouldn't have to pay."

Lugge said the idea of the cameras would be to get license plate numbers of vandals as well as hit-and-run drivers.

"We had someone hit the fountain just a few days ago, and this time we got lucky," Lugge said.

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