War Eagle Extra

Man charged with setting fire to Toomer’s Corner oak tree faces additional felony charge

The Auburn Police Department filed new charges Monday afternoon against Jochen Wiest, the suspect arrested on suspicion of lighting one of the oak trees at Toomer’s Corner on fire.

Wiest allegedly lit the rolled tree on fire in the early hours Sunday following Auburn’s 18-13 win over LSU.

The 29-year-old now faces a felony charge for his alleged role in the incident, with the Auburn police announcing it added a charge of criminal mischief in the first degree.

The criminal mischief statute in Alabama Criminal Code (Section 13A-7-21) is defined as:

“(a) A person commits the crime of criminal mischief in the first degree if, with intent to damage property, and having no right to do so or any reasonable ground to believe that he or she has such a right, he or she inflicts damages to property:

(1) In an amount exceeding two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500); or

(2) By means of an explosion.”

Police in consultation with Auburn University and officials in the horticultural department determined the damage done to the oak tree exceeds $2,500, paving the way for the charge.

Criminal mischief in the first degree is a Class C felony punishable by 1 to 10 years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines.

The arrest warrant for the charge was served on Wiest while he was being held in the Lee County Jail. He still hadn’t posted the $1,000 bond for the previous charges of intoxication and desecration of a venerated object.

Desecration of a venerated object is a Class A misdemeanor in Alabama punishable with a jail sentence of up to one year and fine up to $6,000.

The added felony charge pushes Wiest’s bond up $3,000 (total bond amount $4,500) and shifts the jurisdiction of the case to the Circuit Court of Lee County.

Auburn University put out a statement Monday asking fans not to roll the tree that was set on fire — the oak alongside Magnolia Avenue — until further notice.

Auburn professor of horticulture Gary Keever, who issued a statement Sunday announcing he would be examining the trees to determine the full extend of the damage, may not be able to assess the long-term health of the tree until the spring.

“I don’t think the fire killed the tree, but we may never see it return to its appearance before this act,” Keever said.

It was only the second time fans rolled the new trees since Auburn officials announced the return of the longtime tradition in August.

The original oak trees had to be replaced after being poisoned by an Alabama fan following the 2010 Iron Bowl. The new 35-foot tall oaks were planted in February 2015 from a South Carolina nursery.

Surveillance video shows an unidentified male walking up to the tree and setting it on fire. Fans pointed out the person and tried to prevent him from fleeing the scene.