Road maintenance crew cleans up graffiti, nabs taggers

By John Branton, Columbian Staff Reporter

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The paint was still wet Tuesday after a road-maintenance crew painted over graffiti along Northeast Padden Parkway -- when three teenage taggers came along.

A crew member happened to glance across the parkway and saw the teens marking up the crew’s fresh paint. After a foot chase, the taggers got tagged.

It was about 2 p.m. Tuesday in the 12200 block of Padden eastbound, just west of Heritage High School, said Bill Van Antwerp, a roadside supervisor with the state Department of Transportation.

Maintenance technicians Heidi Olson, Larry Lynch and Steve Lupton had just used paint to cover graffiti near a pedestrian entrance. They then packed up their tool truck and moved across Padden to the north, westbound side.

Looking back at their recent work on the eastbound side, they saw the boys using a large pen, “writing over the paint they had just put down,” Van Antwerp said.

Painting over graffiti seems like a never-ending job, Van Antwerp said. But this was too much.

As the smirks left the taggers’ faces, Lupton and Lynch jumped into their Ford Ranger tool truck, made a U-turn and drove up a pedestrian path.

Olson, who once lived in the area, hurried to cut the teens off, Van Antwerp said, adding that “She kind of weaved through the neighborhood.”

One of the boys ran toward her and she took a photo of his face. Once he ran past her, she took a photo of his back. Tired and winded, the boy came back and waited with Olson for a sheriff’s deputy to arrive.

Eventually the other two boys came to Olson and waited with the first boy.

The trio had “about the biggest Magic Marker I’d ever seen,” the supervisor said.

Deputy Russ Bradseth arrived. Van Antwerp, who wasn’t at the scene Tuesday, said he didn’t know the boys’ fates after that. The three crew members had gone home for the day Thursday before Van Antwerp called The Columbian, and a 911 dispatcher said Bradseth no longer was on duty.

The crews’ main job is roadside vegetation management, mowing and dealing with shrubs and weeds.

“We’re road workers,” Van Antwerp said. “We’re not trying to be police.”

He praised the crew that dealt with the taggers, saying, “They are great. They work together as a team. I like having them on the team.”

Significant cost

In the past two years in this area, taxpayers have paid about $43,300 for crews to deal with graffiti. The damage from Tuesday’s incident is estimated at $300.

Road superintendent Bob Kofsted said one way to fight graffiti is for ordinary citizens to watch for taggers and immediately call 911.

In Clark County, 911 is used for emergency and non-emergency situations. There is no special line for non-emergencies because 911 dispatchers so far have been able to field both types of calls.

John Branton: 360-735-4513 or john.branton@columbian.com.