The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 21, 2012

Auburn police seek 2 after Toomer's oaks fire


Associated Press

— AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — A video released by authorities investigating a late-night fire that damaged Auburn University's landmark trees at Toomer's Corner shows what appears to be two young men walking through the area about the time toilet paper draped over the oaks bursts into flames, police said Wednesday.

One of the persons appears to raise a hand to his mouth while walking across College Street toward the trees, possibly as if he is smoking. Then, as he walks across toilet paper covering the ground beneath one of the trees, he appears to flick or drop something on to the ground.

The video, taken from a city surveillance camera perched atop a building, appears to show two males, said Capt. Tom Stofer, a spokesman for the Auburn Police Department. They are wearing light-colored shirts and dark pants, possibly jeans.

Stofer wouldn't characterize exactly what investigators believe the video shows.

"It's still an active investigation so we're not going to say too much about it," he said.

But authorities are still asking citizens for help identifying the people shown in the images, he said.

Stofer said the video and a separate photo snapped by a surveillance camera at an automatic teller machine were taken about 3:20 a.m. Sunday, or the same time toilet paper draped over the trees after Saturday's football victory was ignited.

No flames are visible in the video, which shows three cars passing through the intersection as the two persons walk first on the street and then on a sidewalk leading to the university campus.

The fire damaged the trees, which already are dying and have been heavily pruned. A University of Alabama fan charged with poisoning the trees is undergoing mental testing to determine if he can stand trial.

Auburn already has laid out a plan for replacing the trees at Toomer's Corner and said work could begin as early as March. The trees will likely be replaced with overcup oaks, a type of slow-growing white oak, according to a report from the school released in August.

The Toomer's Corner oaks have caught on fire at least twice before last weekend in the last five years. Both previous times the trees were covered in toilet paper after Auburn victories.