Pranks go too far – Yard-rolling, egg-throwing, mailbox damage among concerns mentioned

Published 6:00 am Friday, November 3, 2006

Toilet paper trailing from trees and homes is a common sightafter Halloween night as children use the holiday as an opportunityto perform harmless pranks, but officials said the prank sometimescan go too far.

Most incidents are teenagers playing good-humored pranks ontheir friends. Occasionally, though, the prank is used to inflicttime-consuming cleanups to people they don’t like, said LincolnCounty Sheriff Steve Rushing and Police Chief Pap Henderson.

The most common prank, especially around Halloween, is to sneakto a person’s home and drape streams of toilet paper from houses,trees and any other item in the yard, making a mess of the yard andforcing homeowners to commit to a few minutes or hours ofcleanup.

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“The start of school and Halloween are the peak periods (forhouse rolling),” Rushing said.

Typically, he said, children use moderation and don’t causeproperty damage or serious discomfort to the homeowner. However, insome instances, the prank can be taken too far.

Pam Raiford said she was the victim of a prank that was taken tothe extreme. Her home, located on 3.5 acres in Ruth, was rolledHalloween night.

Raiford estimated more than 100 rolls of toilet paper were usedto drape across her house, porch, furniture and in trees along herquarter-mile long driveway.

Also, large pumpkins were smashed and cotton swabs were strewnacross her yard. Vaseline was applied to outside door handles,light fixtures and the mailbox.

“It’s just a little extreme,” Raiford said. “This will take meat least a week to clean up and there will probably be paper in thetops of the trees until it decomposes. We’ve been rolled before,but this is just unbelievable.”

Normally, she said, she laughs off the prank. After all, she didit as a teenager, too.

“I can remember rolling a few yards as a teenager, but it nevercompared to this,” she said. “I’m sure it was done in fun, but theydidn’t stop to think.”

Even Rushing can remember performing a few pranks when he wasyounger.

“We all probably participated in things like this when we werekids, but you have to know to stop before you take it to extremes,”he said.

This time, however, Raiford is not laughing.

“I’m furious about it,” she said. “I’ll prosecute them if I canunless they come apologize and help clean it up.”

There are legal options that can be pursued, but rarely are,Rushing said. Trespassing and littering are charges that can belevied against the pranksters.

Rushing said if he had to choose where the demarcation linebetween prank and crime is, he would personally set it at propertydamage.

“When you do damage to someone’s property, it’s gone beyondbeing a harmless prank,” he said.

Damage of less than $500 is a misdemeanor crime that couldresult in fines of up $1,000 and a year in jail, he said. Maliciousmischief becomes a felony at property damage of more than $500 andcarries a penalty of up to a $10,000 fine and five years in jail.Both also require restitution of the damage to the propertyowner.

Henderson said he relies more on the homeowner’s decision onwhat constitutes an extreme prank and possible criminalpunishment.

Societal acceptance of the deed as a prank oftentimes makes itdifficult for law officers to respond and investigate thecomplaints, especially during Halloween when hordes of children areon the streets creating a potentially dangerous environment,Henderson said.

“It can be difficult to answer those calls because officers arewatching out for the safety of the children,” he said.

It was a busy Halloween for city officers this week, Hendersonsaid. In addition to rolled yards, officers received complaints ofchildren throwing eggs at buildings and two complaints of destroyedmailboxes.

“I’ve never had as many calls as we did this year,” he said. “Itake throwing eggs and tearing down mailboxes more seriously thanrolling yards. They’re damaging. I’m just not going to put up withthat.”

A juvenile was identified in one of the mailbox incidents and isworking out the situation with the homeowner, Henderson said.