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Friday, Feb. 18, 2011

Toomer's Corner tree poisoning: Harvey Updyke's lake home draws interest

Home of accused tree killer draws interest

- lgierer@ledger-enquirer.com
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DADEVILLE, Ala. -- James Whitman said he still had six photos left on the roll of film he took to Auburn’s national championship football victory over Oregon in Arizona.

On Thursday, the 72-year-old man was using them to take photos of the the Lake Martin house where Harvey Almorn Updyke Jr. lives. Updyke was arrested early Thursday and charged with the oak tree poisonings at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn, Ala.

“I want to take photos of the house before someone burns the place down,” he said. He wasn’t smiling.

“There is this fringe element among football fans in this state that you never know what they might do,” said Whitman, an Auburn graduate who lives in Dadeville. “This incident could start something that just keeps growing.”

As Whitman spoke, a truck drove by and a passenger shouted, “Roll Tide!”

The one-level house is located about a dozen miles from downtown Dadeville, a city of approximately 3,000.

Even more concerned about the house’s condition is Wayne Barnes of Pensacola, Fla., who owns the property and rents it to Updyke for a “nominal fee” because he is a friend.

Barnes said in a telephone interview that he began renting to Updyke about two years ago.

“I can’t imagine him going over there in the middle of the night and taking the risk of doing something like this,” Barnes said.

He said he heard from Updyke around 3 a.m. Thursday after the arrest.

“When I got the call I absolutely could not believe it,” he said.

Barnes said Updyke graduated from Milton High in Milton, Fla., and later attended Jefferson Davis Junior College in Brewton, Ala. After his mother died, Updyke moved to Texas where he became a state trooper until an automobile crash about 20 years ago forced him to retire on a medical disability.

Barnes also said Updyke was living in the Lake Martin lake house with his wife and her grandson until about two months ago when they moved near Hammond, La.

The home owner said Updyke called him last weekend and asked if he could move back into the house.

Barnes described Updyke as a lifelong Alabama fan. “But,” said Barnes, “he had never been to a game until about two years ago. He has no ties to the university other than he loves Alabama football.”

University of Alabama spokesperson Deborah Lane said Updyke never attended the University of Alabama and was never a season ticket holder.

The house has no Crimson Tide paraphernalia anywhere in sight.

Many of the homes around the lake are vacation homes, and nobody in the area on Thursday knew his name, though they said they might recognize him if they saw him. Local people were shocked by the news.

Dwaynne Gardner and Nelda Watkins are both ardent fans of the University of Alabama.

Both work at Walnut Hill Eagle service station in Dadeville, and both are disturbed by what happened in Auburn.

“This was totally uncalled for. It’s just football,” Gardner said. “When will people realize that?”

Watkins feels the incident makes Dadeville look bad. What’s worse, she said, is that the entire state looks bad.

“People are always putting down Alabama and the way it loves football,” Watkins said. “They think we’re crazy here.”

Both agreed those critics now have even more ammunition to use. “All because of what one idiot did,” Gardner said.

Paul Dunmyer is an Auburn graduate and retired plant manager who lives in the vicinity and was walking past Updyke’s home on Thursday morning.

“It really hurts to see something like this happen,” he said. “It’s just so sad. It could get worse -- I don’t know what it will happen next.”

As for the rivalry, he said, “This has all become so intense, you don’t know if it is worth it anymore.”

Asked if the act reflected on Dadeville, he replied, “I don’t think so.”

Mary Dudley Poole is a retired real estate agent who lives in the Crown Pointe subdivision not far from Updyke’s home.

Thursday, she was driving past the house and slowed down to maneuver past the many television vehicles. She said she had never met Updyke but that her husband once met him while taking a walk.

“When my husband reached out to shake hands,” she said, “the man’s dog bit him. Fortunately, it wasn’t serious.”

When her husband tried to find out if the dog had its shots, she said Updyke never answered his calls.

Metro editor Chuck Williams contributed to this report.

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