Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

‘Roll Tide’-Crying Tree Poisoner Ordered to Pay

(CN) - A University of Alabama football fan who poisoned the legendary oak trees at the home of its rival, Auburn University, owes more than $796,000, a judge ruled.

For 80 years, Auburn fans would celebrate major occasions by throwing toilet paper onto the two massive oak trees on a spot near its campus called Toomer's Corner.

Two months after Alabama's loss to Auburn in the 2010 Iron Bowl, a caller into the sports radio talk show hosted by Paul Finebaum claimed to have poisoned the trees with commercial herbicide Spike 80DF.

The caller said he did so in retaliation for Auburn fans placing the jersey of Auburn's Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton on the statute of legendary Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. Subsequent tests by Auburn confirmed the poisoning and Harvey Updyke, of Hammond, La., was arrested one month later.

When asked by Finebaum if the poisoning broke the law, the caller answered, "Do you think I care? ... I really don't. Roll damn Tide."

"Roll Tide" is the rally chant for Alabama's Crimson Tide. Auburn fans meanwhile cry "War Eagle."

ESPN Films interviewed Updyke for its 2011 documentary "Roll Tide/War Eagle" as he awaited trial. Updyke denied poisoning the trees but admitted to making the phone call claiming responsibility.

"There's just too much 'Bama in me," Updyke said. "I don't have my priorities straight."

In a phone call to Finebaum's show two months after his first call, Updyke apologized and said he did not want his legacy to be known as the "Auburn tree poisoner."

"But I guess it's too late now," he said. "I gotta say one thing before I get off the air, [it's] probably going to make some people mad but I gotta do it, Paul ... Roll damn Tide."

Updyke earned a six-month sentence with 104 days time served after pleading guilty in March 2013 to one count of criminal damage of an agricultural facility. He now faces five years probation.

Auburn removed the poisoned trees this past April and plans to redevelop the site by 2014.

Prosecutors had asked for $1.35 million in restitution for Auburn's lost revenue and the cost of removing and replacing the trees and affected soil.

The Opelika-Auburn News reported that Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob Walker III ordered Updyke on Friday to pay Auburn $500 every month to make up for his crime.

Restitution will be paid in full after 132 years. Updyke also owes the school $2,000 in legal fees and $16,500 in court costs.

"The court finds that all other restitution requests on behalf of the university are reasonable and that they have been proven beyond a preponderance of the evidence," the order states. "The court believes the defendant failed to fully take into account the repercussions of poisoning living things, and finds that his actions placed the public at considerable risk of health concerns."

Updyke's attorney Andrew Stanley had tried to show the court that Updyke is indigent with only $631 to his name and living on Medicaid and Social Security disability benefits.

Walker ruled there was no evidence Updyke was unable to apply for a job to make the payments, nor that his health was a factor in looking for a job, the News reported.

The order further states Updyke can perform community service for nonprofit organizations to reduce only the legal fees and court costs levied. He will receive a $25 credit for every eight hours performed.

Follow @davejourno
Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.