Saturday, September 14, 2002

2 suspects rooted out as tree cutters

Men charged in 'prank' to Mason's Christmas display

By Sheila McLaughlin,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — The alleged Grinches accused of trying to steal Christmas here in 1999 have been treed by police.

        Nearly three years after the city's landmark 30-foot holiday spruce in front of the Mason library was sawed down on a foggy December night, police have arrested two men in the case.

[photo] Two men have been charged with cutting down Mason's 30-foot Christmas tree in 1999.
(Enquirer file photo)
| ZOOM |
        Devon Zambon, 21, a former Mason High football linebacker who now lives in Cincinnati, and Robert Keith Ralston, 22, of Mason are charged with felony vandalism.

        “The wheels of justice turn awfully slowly sometimes, but they keep turning,” Detective Sgt. Todd Carter said Friday.

        “Too many people knew. Sooner or later it slips out. We kept our ears open for this one, and finally got some charges.”

        Mr. Zambon was arraigned Tuesday and is expected to plead to a reduced charge Sept. 23 in exchange for restitution. The blue spruce was valued at $2,000.

        Mr. Ralston turned himself in to authorities this week after learning that a warrant was issued for his arrest, police said. He is scheduled to appear in Mason Municipal Court on Tuesday.

        The felony charge carries a prison term of six months to a year.

        The destruction of the lighted tree — the focal point of Christmas for 20 years in this city of 22,000 — caused a stir after it was found toppled about 7:30 a.m. Dec. 13, 1999, in front of the library on U.S. 42.

        City officials initially demanded weekly reports on the progress of the police investigation. Residents questioned how someone could be so heartless.

        Sgt. Carter said Mr. Zambon and Mr. Ralston indicated that they sawed down the tree down as a prank.

        Neither suspect could be reached Friday. A man who identified himself as Mr. Zambon's father said no one in the family had anything to say.

        Mayor John McCurley said he was happy to hear that the case was solved, even though residents, businesses and city leaders rallied around the negative incident to turn it into a positive experience.

        The tree was replaced with one donated by Natorp's Inc., a local landscaping company. The boughs of the damaged trees were made into wreaths, and the trunk was chopped up and sold as fund-raisers for city beautification projects, he said.

        Mr. McCurley said he wants the culprits to pay restitution, but he doesn't harbor resentment.

        “Mason will certainly get on with our Christmas spirit,” he said. “I hope the young men involved are able to put this behind them and get on with their lives.”


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