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Graffiti spree hits 13 businesses

Large letters scrawled in orange, black and blue spray paint littered several city blocks this past weekend when at least 13 businesses were tagged with graffiti.

The tags, most of which looked like initials but included some displays of derogatory comments toward police, were painted on walls and vehicles located in the 3000, 3100, 3200 and 3300 blocks of Pacific Highway South.

Most are thought to have been placed between 5 and 7 a.m. Saturday, July 28, according to police crime logs. Each of the 13 businesses had similar markings in like colors, indicating they may have been done by the same person or people.

Damages averaged $250 for the 13 businesses that reported the graffiti, according to the police data. Several of the businesses have since painted over the tags.

Among the businesses targeted were the United States Post Office, 32829 Pacific Highway S.; Napa Auto Parts, 32811 Pacific Highway S.; and Burger Express, 32805 Pacific Highway S. The taggers spray painted service vehicles at both the post office and Napa Auto Parts.

"(The post office has) never had anything like this before," postal carrier Mark McDowell said.

Larry Osburn, customer service manager at the post office, arrived to work last Saturday morning to find 17 of the 28 postal trucks tagged in orange, blue and white graffiti. The vehicles, kept in a parking lot behind the post office and protected by a large metal gate, chain-link fence and barbed wire, were found with graffiti on their hoods, right fenders and windshields, Osburn said. He suspected the vandalism happened between 2 and 4 a.m. July 28.

A postal clerk arriving to work during this time period witnessed an Asian male between the ages of 13 and 15, wearing dark clothing and an orange backpack, fleeing an area near where the trucks are stored, supervisor Bob Evins said.

Originally, post office workers thought they may need to purchase new trucks, Evins said. These damages would have cost the post office an estimated $12,000, according to the police log. Efforts to remove the graffiti from the vehicles began soon after the vandalism was discovered.

Postal carriers had mixed feelings about the incident and did not want to drive the streets with the graffiti on their trucks, Osburn said.

"We didn't want whoever did it to have the satisfaction of having their tagging seen around town," Osburn said.

Generous amounts of paint remover and scrubbing were needed to restore the vehicles to their prior condition, Osburn said. No new trucks are needed. The carriers talked to the city's residents and have heard frustrations about the graffiti problem, McDowell said. He imagines several of his customers would have been upset by the graffiti on the trucks had it not come off the vehicles, he said.

"People look at us as representatives of the government," McDowell said. "It's a terrible image — us going down the street with graffiti on our vehicles."

In the three years Evins has worked at the post office, this is the first time he has experienced its property serving as a canvas for graffiti, he said. In the past the post office, which is federal property, was seemingly spared this type of vandalism, he said.

For some carriers, the incident at the post office drew attention to the severity of the city's graffiti problem, McDowell said.

"To come back and have it right there in our faces was a big insult to us," he said.

Frustrated business owners:

Feelings of disappointment and irritation were felt by some business owners and employees who fell victim to the vandalism. The suspect(s) wasn't satisfied with tagging just the post office — business after business along Pacific Highway South was hit.

A 4-foot by 3-foot tag was painted on the north side of the Napa Auto Parts building and a 6-inch tag was left on one delivery van, store manager Chris Souers said. An employee noticed the graffiti Saturday morning. She used two cans of blue spray paint to cover the initials on the building Tuesday, July 31. Souers had the van detailed, costing the business about $100, he said. The auto parts store did not report the incident to the police.

"What can they do?" Souers asked.

Next door, at Burger Express, business continues on, but on the building's north wall rests the same large, orange letters seen on neighboring building's walls. This is not the first time Burger Express has been a target of graffiti, one manager said. As part of the city's recently adopted ordinance to stop graffiti, Burger Express was issued a notice of complaint on Aug. 1, she said.

Business owners have 72 hours to clean the graffiti from their premises, according to the city's graffiti ordinance.

Police investigation:

Federal Way police are investigating the case, Police Chief Brian Wilson said.

The department is focused and committed to solving the graffiti problem in the city. While this incident does pose a bit of a setback for the department, it is making good progress on the most recent case, Wilson said.

Police do have some possible suspects and leads to a vehicle connected with the taggers, police spokeswoman Stacy Flores said.

"We are devoting a good number of resources to the investigation," Wilson said.

Wilson said he believes the graffiti was painted by several individuals who, if caught, could face felony malicious mischief charges. To assist the police in eliminating graffiti from the city, residents should be aware of their surroundings and report suspicious activity, Wilson said.

The Postal Inspection Service is assisting the police department in its investigation of the vandalism at the post office, U.S. Postal Inspector Jim Vach said. The graffiti is not considered a federal crime because the cost of the damage caused does not meet the standards for classifying a crime as such, he said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

To report any information about the graffiti at any of the 13 businesses call the Federal Way Police Department at (253) 835-6700.

To see a map of locations hit by the graffiti spree, visit:

http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=101929995918064038922.000436be7927288b37979&ll=47.313864,-122.31328&spn=0.034333,0.06197&t=h&z=14&om=1

Where the graffiti taggers hit, according to victims and police records:

Demers & Gagnier, Inc. building, 30640 Pacific Highway S.

Discount Tire, 31414 Pacific Highway S.

Shucks Auto Supply, 31430 Pacific Highway S.

Joann Etc., 31523 Pacific Highway S.

Verizon Wireless building, 31830 Pacific Highway S.

Schucks Auto Supply, 32411 Pacific Highway S.

Public Storage, 32615 Pacific Highway S.

Burger Express, 32805 Pacific Highway S.

Napa Auto Parts, 32811 Pacific Highway S.

United States Post Office, 32829 Pacific Highway S.

Allstate Insurance building, 33606 Pacific Highway S.

Columbia Bank, 33370 Pacific Highway S.

Red Canoe Credit Union, 33616 Pacific Highway S.

Signs and construction barrels at S. Dash Point Road and Pacific Highway South

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