published Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Vandals hit Cleveland airport site

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    Staff Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press Vandals damaged several pieces of heavy equipment at the construction site of the new airport in Cleveland, Tenn.

More than $100,000 in damage was done Monday night when vandals commandeered a track hoe and went on a destructive joyride at the construction site for the new Cleveland, Tenn., airport, authorities said Tuesday.

Bradley County Sheriff's Office spokesman Bob Gault said a bulldozer, a road grader and a dump truck were damaged. The equipment belongs to Wright Bros. Construction of Charleston, Tenn.

Steve Wright, company president, said that while the equipment would have to be replaced, the vandalism would not stop work at the site, just outside city limits on Michigan Avenue. But the vandalism will cost the company, he said.

"These people need to be prosecuted," Wright said. "It's just a lack of respect for other people's property."

Gault said it appeared nothing was stolen from the site.

He said investigators think the incident occurred sometime Monday night or early Tuesday morning. Construction crews arrived at the site at 7 a.m. Tuesday to discover the damage, Gault said.

Wright said crews at the scene Tuesday told him it appeared vandals tried to use the track hoe to "rip the top off" the bulldozer, causing significant damage.

Equipment from other project sites in the area will be shifted around to replace the damaged machinery at the Cleveland site while the equipment is being repaired, officials said.

The Sheriff's Office is offering a reward of up to $1,500 for information leading to an arrest in the case.

Wright said his company would match whatever reward was offered by the sheriff's department.

Anyone with information about the vandalism is asked to call the Bradley County Sheriff's Office crime tip hot line at 423-728-7336.

Construction of the airport began last year, Cleveland Assistant City Manager Melinda Carroll said.

Wright said his company recently started Phase II of the airport project, and construction is expected to be completed on schedule in the middle of 2011.

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