COLUMBIA — The Columbia Police Department is searching for two vandals who rampaged through Cosmopolitan Park in a stolen truck Saturday at 1:15 a.m.
Security cameras showed two men breaking into the Cosmo Park storage area and stealing a Parks and Recreation Department truck. Then, the perpetrators, who appear to be teenagers, drove the truck around three softball fields and into a lake, Columbia Parks and Recreation Director Mike Griggs said.
An estimated $50,000 of damage was done, Griggs said.
"It's an unfortunate incident," Parks Services Manager Gabe Huffington said.
Since construction is in progress on the east end of the Cosmo Park storage compound, the men were able to sneak in by removing a temporary fence, Griggs said.
After searching around the storage area, the intruders found a key that had been left in a truck. Griggs said that many different park employees drive the trucks, so it is not unusual to leave keys behind.
"It's kind of like leaving your keys in your car in the garage," he said.
The two men drove the truck through the gates surrounding the storage area, around the yellow, blue and orange fields in the Rainbow Softball Center and into an irrigation lake in the park, stranding the vehicle and fleeing on foot.
Cosmo Park employees saw the destruction when they showed up at 4 a.m. and called the police. Griggs is grateful that the police sent a full investigative team to collect fingerprints and DNA samples.
"I want to thank the police," he said. "They recognized the amount of damage that was done."
Griggs is confident that the investigation will prove successful.
"It's not a matter of if we catch the suspects," Griggs said. "It's a matter of when we catch them. My recommendation is for them to get an attorney and turn themselves in."
Parks employees have also taken quick action to deal with the vandalism. Many employees even skipped the Missouri home football game Saturday to help repair the facilities, according to Griggs.
"We strive pretty hard to provide quality parks and facilities," Huffington said.
Softball league games are being relocated, temporary fences are being installed and new grass seed is being planted.
"Our intentions are to have the fields back up and playable by Saturday," scheduling supervisor Carol Riney said.
Saturday is the goal because that is the day Cosmo Park hosts the Veterans United "Home Runs for Heroes" charity softball tournament, Riney said.
Riney, Huffington and Griggs are all pleased with how well the park employees have responded to the vandalism.
"Our staff did a really great job," Griggs said.
The estimated $50,000 is needed to replace fences and turf on three softball fields and fix the damage that was done to the stolen truck.
Griggs said this is the worst case of vandalism in Cosmo Park history. People have recklessly driven their own trucks or four-wheelers around the park before but have never done so with a stolen park vehicle, he said.
Columbia's only costlier case of damage was the Maplewood Barn Community Theatre fire in April 2010, which did $300,000 of damage. But that incident was not necessarily an act of vandalism, Griggs said, adding that it could have simply been an electrical malfunction or other accident.
Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.