A man who was seen removing storm drain covers and dropping the grates into the drains was arrested late Tuesday in East Anchorage, police said.
The arrest follows a string of such vandalism in the past three weeks, although police have not yet charged the man in previous incidents.
Rodney Whitstine, 33, was charged with criminal mischief and disorderly conduct for his actions Tuesday, police said. Earlier cases are still under investigation.
Storm drain covers began disappearing about a month ago when investigators discovered they were being dropped into the drains, which range from 3 to 15 feet deep. The missing grates caused danger to drivers, pedestrians and cyclists that could easily turn deadly, police have said.
“The removal of the grate leaves a gaping void in the ground large enough for a pedestrian to fall through,” police said previously. “It’s also big enough to stop a vehicle in its tracks which could easily injure the occupants inside and/or cause a traffic crash. If a bicyclist should travel over the hole the bike will immediately stop its forward motion which will most certainly throw its rider.”
The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has said the vandalism required immediate and costly response. DOT workers responding to the open storm drains often worked after hours. Some grates had to be replaced. The incidents were costing the department thousands of dollars, officials said.
“We’ve been taking some additional steps to keep them in place as well, but this will also make it more difficult for us to move them in the spring when we need to get in and remove the grit/sand,” DOT spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy said by email. “Each grate is $400, plus work time, which can include overtime.”
Hey #Anchorage, please help us protect public safety and save public dollars: There’s a prank going around that might...Posted by Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities on Wednesday, July 15, 2020
As of Monday, 35 grates had been dropped into storm drains, McCarthy said.
Street maintenance employees called police just before 10:30 p.m. to report that a man was throwing construction cones into the road and dropping storm drain grates into drains, police said in a statement. The workers followed the man when he headed toward the 700 block of Muldoon Road, police said.
As officers neared the area, one saw a man matching the suspect description near DeBarr Road and Beaver Place. The maintenance workers identified Whitstine as the man they’d seen vandalizing drains.
Investigators also said six decorative concrete tops were knocked over Tuesday on Muldoon Road and one was damaged.
Whitstine has not been charged in any of the other incidents involving drain removal, and Anchorage police did not say if there were any other suspects as of Wednesday. McCarthy said each grate weighs roughly 90 pounds, “not impossible for a single person to move, but certainly very heavy.”
Anyone who sees vandalism or notices a missing drain cover is urged to call 311, McCarthy said.
[Because of a high volume of comments requiring moderation, we are temporarily disabling comments on many of our articles so editors can focus on the coronavirus crisis and other coverage. We invite you to write a letter to the editor or reach out directly if you’d like to communicate with us about a particular article. Thanks.]