One man’s backhoe rampage across a Central Florida town destroyed several front yards and multiple Biden-Harris campaign signs, according to Haines City Police.
James Blight, 26, was arrested and charged Saturday with grand theft auto and trespassing, with additional charges possible, Mike Ferguson, public information officer for the Haines City Police, said in an email Monday.
“Blight told police that he had been drinking whiskey all day and did not remember most of the day,” Ferguson wrote. “He said that he couldn’t help but hit the Joe Biden signs and acknowledged to taking down a fence in the process. Blight said he did not know how to operate the equipment.”
Ferguson said that investigators learned that “Blight took out a private chain-link fence and several political signs” and a “city-owned speed limit sign.”
“It’s absurd that a grown man could think he had the right to destroy someone else’s property based on a difference in political opinion. The fact that he was driving this heavy equipment, that he did not know how to operate, down busy roads could have been disastrous. We’re thankful that no one was hurt in this matter,” Haines City police Chief Jim Elensky said.
Cornelius Marion, a neighbor who saw the attack, told NBC News on Monday that he thought something didn’t look right as soon as he saw the front-end loader with a backhoe arm.
“He revved up the engine and rammed the fence,” Marion said. Then he saw the driver scooping up the yard and the Biden-Harris campaign sign atop it. “I thought: ‘That doesn’t look right,'” Marion said.
“I jumped into my truck and called 911 and followed him along, and the whole time he’s riding down the road, he’s yelling at people, cussing them out,” Marion continued, alleging that the suspect told one person at an intersection, “I’m going to run you over.”
Then during this slow-motion backhoe chase across town — cars were backed up behind the slow machine, Marion said — the suspect passed by another lawn with multiple Biden-Harris campaign signs.
“He took the front end and dropped it down and dug it up,” Marion recalled. “That’s where, at the same time, he hit the 15 mph speed limit sign and knocked it down.”
Marion said that the white suspect vandalized a predominantly Black neighborhood.
“He claimed he was drunk, but if he was drunk could he steal and drive a tractor right up here to this area, that’s a predominantly Black area? Operating the backhoe like a normal person?” Marion said.
“I understand he was saying, ‘I accidentally ran into something,’ but no, you deliberately dropped your front end loader at the other house and you just scooped up in their yard, so I don’t buy the drunkenness part.”
Ferguson said the investigation was ongoing and that Blight was arrested and transported to Polk County.
A reporter for Bay News 9 posted a video on Twitter showing that the family of one of the victims responded by planting 20 more Biden-Harris campaign signs.
CORRECTION (Oct. 26, 2020, 12:45 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article incorrectly described the machine that was allegedly stolen. It was a front-end loader with a backhoe arm, not a bulldozer.