Vandals wreak inflatable woes

Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2007

At 12:20 a.m. Saturday, Claude Roberts received that phone call from his daughter that all Halloween decorators dread.

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Four vandals had invaded his Riverside Drive lawn, stolen his eight-foot-tall, $75 inflatable ghost and inexplicably replaced it with a 15-foot-tall inflatable Mountain Dew bottle.

"It was up into the power lines," Roberts said. "If it had been raining, somebody would have been (electrocuted). But thank heavens, it was freezing out."

Some would be shocked by the sight of a giant soda hovering in the middle of the lawn, blotting out the moon. But this was nothing new for Roberts.

The 65-year-old, a retired driver and dispatcher with Care-A-Van Transportation, has been decorating his lawn for the last 20 years. He's lived on Riverside for the last seven, and has spent "$3,000 to $4,000" on holiday memorabilia in the last decade.

Every Halloween, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, he fills his yard with appropriately themed plastic animals and inflatable figures. Next door, he's filled his four grandchildren's front lawn with a menagerie of Winnie The Pooh characters.

More than 100 kids visit Roberts' house every Halloween night. On his porch Halloween morning, he sets up a giant tunnel with the Grim Reaper at one end.

"I have a garage-full of decorations," Roberts said. "Parents are always stopping by with their kids to see it. They just love it."

But sure enough, vandals show up almost every year.

One year they climbed onto his porch and knifed his 8-foot-tall Santa Claus. Another time, they invaded his grandkids' yard and carved up a blow-up polar bear and three babies.

Once, Roberts followed three young male vandals all the way back to their home. He confronted their mother, who insisted the kids hadn't left the house all night, he said.

In the last seven years, Roberts has had to throw away 21 plastic, light-up reindeer that have been critically injured.

This time, two sets of his neighbors saw four "college kids" near Roberts' lawn at the time of the ghost-theft.

"It's just vandalism," Roberts said. "It's not respecting other people's property."

"I sure wish I could get the ghost back," he said. "The $75 every time I turn around is getting a little bit hard to take."

As of late Wednesday afternoon, Juneau police had no leads.

"Nothing new," Capt. Jerry Nankervis said. "We haven't been able to come up with anybody."

"I recall his house has been victimized before," he said. "It's pretty visible and a pretty low-speed traffic area. So it gets a lot of attention, which is good for him when they don't mess with his stuff."

Though treats have outpaced tricks during the Halloween season, pranks are still a common occurrence in late October.

"Usually what you get is the people stealing the pumpkins and smashing them in the road, or the egging," Nankervis said.

"This is the first one where they've taken one thing and replaced it with something else," he said. "It doesn't do the homeowner any good. If he wanted the Mountain Dew bottle, he would have bought it himself."

The giant Mountain Dew bottle belongs to the Anchorage office of the Pepsi-Cola Bottling Group of Alaska. The inflatable drink was set up next to Wal-Mart for the box store's Sept. 12 grand opening. About a week later, it vanished.

"It would probably still be at Wal-Mart if it didn't disappear," said Rich Sjoroos, repair technician with Pepsi-Cola's Juneau field office. "We didn't know what to make of that and it had been a couple of weeks. We had almost given up on it.

"(Roberts) stopped by our warehouse and let us know that somebody had taken one of his ghosts and replaced it with a Mountain Dew bottle," he said. "That was a bit of a surprise to us."

The Mountain Dew bottle weighs about 50 pounds. It's inflatable, with a small motor at the bottom that blows air into the inside. When Sjoroos went to pick it up, he figured he'd need a pickup to haul the bottle away. But once it's deflated, it's actually quite small. That explains how thieves could have discretely transported it around town.

"It's not too big," Sjoroos said. "I went in a Blazer and I put it behind the back seat."

This year's ghost-theft almost discouraged Roberts from his yearly decoration.

"I wasn't going to put them back up again, and we had about eight different people stop in on Monday and thank us for doing it," Roberts said. "They said, 'Please do.' "

So he went outside, and set up a giant inflatable pumpkin with two ghosts rising out of the fruit's core. Next to it, a treasure chest closes and opens to reveal a skeleton.

"When I went by and picked up the Mountain Dew bottle, I could see he was definitely in the Halloween spirit," Sjoroos said. "That's pretty neat to see. It's too bad (the vandals) mess with him."

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