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New veterans cemetery desecrated
 Driving a stolen vehicle, the vandal crashed through gates, plowed ruts in fresh sod and flattened trees.
Paper: Sacramento Bee, The (CA)
Title: New veterans cemetery desecrated - Driving a stolen vehicle, the vandal crashed through gates, plowed ruts in fresh sod and flattened trees.
Author: Christine VovakesBee Correspondent
Date: November 17, 2005
Section: METRO
Page: B1

In an act that officials called totally disrespectful of veterans, a new cemetery dedicated here last week was vandalized early Wednesday morning.

The vandal crashed through the iron gates of the Northern California Veterans Cemetery, plowed ruts through a large sodded area around a flagpole and mowed down more than three dozen trees.

On the way out of the cemetery, the perpetrator broke down a second gate but left behind key evidence when the vehicle's front license plate was knocked off.

Investigators discovered that California license plate 4SOR359 belongs to a still-missing 1992 green-and-gold Ford Bronco that was stolen from a Redding car lot in October, California Highway Patrol Officer Monty Hight said.

Hight said the vandal had popped wheelies.

"It's absolutely outrageous," said district VFW official Larry Spurlin via phone from Post 1934 in Redding. "The amount of damage is phenomenal, not just physically but mentally. It takes a toll on all the veterans and the families waiting to inter their loved ones."

No burials had yet taken place, according to the CHP, the lead investigative unit because the crime happened on state property.

The cemetery, which is the first state-owned and -operated veterans cemetery in California, was dedicated Friday, which was Veterans Day. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was among the many officials present at the 120-acre site in the rolling, oak-covered hills 10 miles southwest of Redding, near this small Shasta County town.

California has the largest population of veterans in the United States. Until the state cemetery opened in Shasta County, the nearest veteran cemeteries were either in the San Joaquin Valley or in Oregon.

Decrying the vandalism, Shasta County Board of Supervisors Chairman David Kehoe said the destruction "showed total disrespect toward veterans and public property. ... The cemetery is on a beautiful site up on a vista. It's a tranquil setting and a fitting resting place for America's heroes."

Shasta County Administrative Officer Douglas Latimer said the community was stunned by the news. "It's astonishing that there are people in the world who feel compelled to do such things," he said.

Bob Peterson, who serves on the Veterans Cemetery Advisory Board, was elated last week during the dedication of the cemetery he'd worked years to secure for the northern part of the state. But the 82-year-old World War II veteran and retired Navy pilot was distraught when he viewed the damage Wednesday morning.

"I felt very depressed and sad that someone would vandalize something that was dedicated to people who served their country," he said.

Peterson recently had to give up playing taps after participating in more than 400 funeral services for veterans over the past seven years. "I have a deep-seated feeling in my heart for those vets," he said.

Investigators were pursuing leads, but as of Wednesday evening there were no suspects. The monetary amount of the damage was still unknown, but it was estimated to be in the thousands of dollars, CHP Officer Scott Johnson said.

The California Department of Veterans Affairs said cleanup and restoration will begin as soon as law enforcement officials give the go-ahead.

Anyone with information is asked to call to the CHP at (530) 242-3200.

Author: Christine VovakesBee Correspondent
Section: METRO
Page: B1