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Vandals Endanger Seminole Aviation

By E. Bowers

BIG CYPRESS - In the early morning hours of March 30, the Seminole Police Department was dispatched to the Seminole Aviation runway upon reports of broken glass on the landing strip. Someone had removed glass lens covers from the runway lights and thrown them onto the runway. In all, eight lens covers were broken.

"There are two issues here," said Tom Hernan, Chief of the Seminole Police Department. "First of all you lose lighting for incoming planes and there's also glass on the runway which can cause serious safety risks."

There were other incidents of vandalism at the Frank J. Billie Center, located near the runway. A front-end loader and golf cart were taken on joyrides. The loader was later found in the woods with a flat tire.

The vandalism prompted Seminole Tribal Chairman James Billie to put out a $5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the persons involved.

However, Hernan stated two juveniles have been arrested on related charges. "We picked them up, but people think the case has not been solved because we don't advertise the arrests."

Hernan was also reticent about the idea of putting out cash rewards for information. "You could have people planning incidents because of the amount of money involved," said Hernan.

As far as Hernan is concerned the Seminole Police Department has a high closure rate of such cases. "We average in the 40's. It's not 100 percent. There's a certain reality, but 43 percent is good when the national average is 22 percent," said Hernan. Both Chairman Billie and Chief Hernan agreed that Tribal members carry out most incidents of vandalism. "It's still nothing in comparison to 1986, when Ahfachkee was being built," said Hernan, "They used to break in and demolish everything."

However, for Chairman Billie, the latest incident may have been the last straw. "The vandalism has got to stop. $5,000 will be a standard fee on all reservations for information leading to the conviction of the people involved," said Billie.

"Things like this are cutting into the dividends because these are happening on Tribal government property and it's Tribal members who are doing this. It's a continuous cycle, because we have to build it up again.

"Vandalism can hit almost $1 million. Those caught can be subject to having their dividends cut off for a year or permanently. Those are the Tribal Council's options."

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