Sorority faces possible felony vandalism charges in palm tree attack
With the enthusiasm of hungry locusts lunching on a Kansas cornfield, seven members of a sorority apparently went out Saturday night, Sept. 6, to locate, hack off and retrieve fronds from local palm trees.
The fronds were then lined along the white metal picket fence that fronts and sides the large gray two-story Gamma Phi Beta sorority house at 606 Fifth St., in hopes of lending a touch of authenticity to a luau planned for the next day.
Tim Cook, owner of the old Sin of Cortez building on Nord Avenue and Fifth Street, says sometime Saturday night someone cut palm fronds off the tree that sits right next to the former restaurant. And just down the street the six short palms that stand in front of the Body Shop health club were nearly denuded of their fronds.
Trees at St. John’s Catholic Church, across the street from the sorority house, and at the Matador Motel on The Esplanade were also hit.
A blond-haired sorority sister eating a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich answered the sorority house door when a reporter knocked. She said she couldn’t speak on the matter and suggested the reporter talk to the Gamma president, whose name, phone number and whereabouts she refused to reveal.
Cook, who is remodeling the building on Nord to house a cooking school, said that, on Sunday morning after he and his wife discovered the damage, he drove through the neighborhood looking for the missing fronds. Near Fifth and Hazel streets he came across a Chico police officer writing a traffic ticket.
“I got out of the car and told the cop what had happened,” Cook said. “The cop says, ‘I know where your palm fronds are,’ and he pointed to the sorority.”
Cook said he then approached the house to ask about the fronds.
“They were in the middle of having this party, and they were pretty annoyed that we bothered them,” Cook said.
He said he learned there were seven sorority sisters who’d allegedly carried out the late-night frond harvest, and when he asked to talk with them, there was some initial hesitation. But when the cop suggested arresting the whole lot of them, the sisters agreed to cooperate.
“We got sort of a half-hearted apology,” Cook said. “Their parents were there, and they tried to keep us on the outside, on the other side of this bamboo fence they had built.”
Cook said he is not sure how much damage his tree incurred but said he thought that it was worth $1,200 and that the missing fronds—about a dozen were hacked off—would not grow back. He said he was told by the police that any damage over $400 in a case like this could lead to a felony vandalism charge.
Cook said he and his wife have not decided whether to press charges.
“We’re going to see what happens,” he said. “We’ve all been young and done stupid things, and this was definitely one of those times.
“We’ll see if they take care of things. We don’t want to be hard asses, but the girls need to learn something from this.”
Down at the Body Shop, manager Jeffery Young said the company would file a report in a day or two and would also wait before filing charges.
“I don’t think it should go that far," Young said.