The Auburn Police Division has identified and charged the 29-year-old Auburn man who was detained early today in connection to the Toomer's Oak fire Sunday morning, police said.
Jochen Wiest, who was taken into custody earlier on an unrelated charge of public intoxication, has now been arrested on a warrant charging him with "desecration of a venerable object," police said.
He was arrested for the desecration charge while still in the Lee County Detention Center for the previous charge.
Wiest, who is not affiliated with the University, is being held on a $1,500 bond — $500 for the public intoxication charge and $1,000 for the desecration charge — police said.
The case remains under investigation by Auburn police, and they said they welcome any additional information. But at this time, police said they don't anticipate any other charges.
The Oak caught fire at about midnight on Sunday after Auburn's 18-13 win over LSU and was hosed down within minutes by the Auburn Fire Division.
Video surveillance showed that after Wiest appeared to light the toilet paper, a woman confronted him and chased him after he tried to run away. It also showed another person attempting to extinguish the fire before it engulfed the tree.
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The fire comes only weeks after the University announced fans could resume rolling the new trees — which were planted in February 2015 — for the first time this season. The original trees were poisoned by Harvey Updyke in 2011.
Gary Keever, horticulture professor, said he does not think the burned Toomer's Oak is dead — but the tree's future is not yet certain.
"Based on the initial appearance of the tree, I don’t think the fire has killed the tree," Keever said in an email to The Auburn Plainsman. "However, aesthetic death, when the tree declines to such an extent that it detracts from the landscape and there is little chance of it returning to its full grandeur, may warrant consideration of removal as a result of this act."
It will be days, weeks or even months before the full extent of the damage is known, Keever said.
"The full extent of the damage won’t be known for several days to several weeks, and perhaps not until we see regrowth in spring," Keever said.
Later Sunday morning, when soaked toilet paper piles littered the floor of Toomer's Corner, two signs sat at the base of the Magnolia Oak. Both quoted Dr. Seuss' "The Lorax" accompanied by a get-well comment and signed by Auburn alumna Molly Thorvilson and her boyfriend Kyle Johnson.
Thorvilson, 2013 graduate and Auburn resident, said when she and Johnson, who is a doctoral student at Auburn, heard of the burning this morning on Facebook, they immediately thought to make the signs.
"We thought of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, thinking about the anger, greed and selfishness of people that could lead them to destroy things that many hold so dear," Thorvilson said. "These trees that had spirit, joy and positive energy for everyone to share. We thought the quotes from that story captured it perfectly."
Her first roll was after the Auburn vs. Florida game in 2006. And 10 years later, after a poisoning and rebirth of the rolling tradition, she, like many others, only got to roll the new Oaks twice.
"We were heartbroken to wake up and see that one of our trees was hurt yet again," she said. "I was here when they were poisoned and grieved them then as well. As you know, these trees were still so young and haven’t even had the chance to be rolled very many times at all. ... We had just rolled them after the victory the night before and simply had to pay our respects this morning."
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