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Vandalism at Vets Park
Trail of Lights displays knocked down, stomped on, mangled
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Officer John Reynolds and Doug Burt with the City of Great Bend look over damage to lighting displays at Veterans Park Friday morning. The displays are part of Great Bends Trail of Lights. Most of the damaged scenes are part of the 12 days of Christmas on the north end of the park. Parks workers went to work Friday making repairs and righting displays in time for the four day Christmas weekend. - photo by Veronica Coons

Great Bend city workers discovered extensive vandalism of Trail of Lights lighting displays at Veterans Park Friday morning during a routine check of the area and reported damage to Great Bend Police.  The majority of the damage was done to the “12 Days of Christmas” displays on the north end of the park, in addition to a Santa and sleigh display pulled down on the roof of the picnic shelter and two displays in front of the shelter mangled and pushed over.     

“This is very extensive damage compared to what we’ve seen in a long time,” said Terry Hoff, human resources director for the City of Great Bend Friday morning.  Five displays were damaged so badly it was uncertain how long it would take to repair and rebuild them.  After police finished gathering evidence, the city parks crew started work and by mid-afternoon, Hoff told the Tribune that they were making good progress on tackling the problem.  

“They had to MacGyver a few things to make sure they would work,” Hoff said.  “We have some very capable and talented people.

Most of the displays were ready Friday night, with only a handful of days left before Christmas.  For many families and visitors to Great Bend, taking a drive with the family to look at the lights is a long standing tradition.  
Burt toured the display with friends Thursday night at around 9 p.m., and all was in order.  According to Hoff, the lighted displays shut off at midnight.  It was during the early morning garbage check when the damage was discovered.  

Officer John Raymond made the initial investigation.  Judging from the footprints left behind at the scene, at least two, possibly three persons were involved.  

 “They smashed and stomped on [the displays] with their feet.  Others were bent in half so they probably put their body weight on them,” he said.  “Everything is foot traffic.”  

Reynolds said the tracks indicate the culprits were running, and estimated they could have done the damage in less than an hour.  Putting it all up is another story.  City crews began working after Halloween in order to have all the displays up by Thanksgiving.  That doesn’t count the hours of repairing and relighting displays at the city shops over the course of the year.  

Burt said this is not the first time the “12 days of Christmas” has been vandalized.  Ten years ago the displays were smashed on Thanksgiving weekend.   Hoff said. “It’s hard to estimate the cost of the damage, but it’s possible that it could be between $10,000 and $15,000.”

Great Bend Park Supervisor Scott Keeler said the lights are funded in part by the city, and in part by donations from groups and private individuals.  The displays were built by city workers and have been used since the late 1990s.  Hoff said there have not been any complaints about the lighting displays to his knowledge.  
Hoff says if the city receives information leading to the culprits responsible, it will not hesitate to prosecute.    Bob  Robinson with the Great Bend police department confirmed Friday that Crime Stoppers is offering a reward of up to $1,000 dollars for anyone who calls their line (888-305-1300) with information on this crime.