A Fairview Heights couple is suing their neighbor, a Fairview Heights alderman, accusing him of cutting down a tree on their property.
The tree, which was 16 years old, was cut down in July, according to the couple.
Jerry Coombs and Bryan Brandt filed an arbitration suit against Ward 2 Alderman Roger Lowry on Dec. 28. Lowry maintains that the tree was on his property.
Coombs and Brandt are trying to recover the costs of their suit and a comparable 25-foot replacement tree, which a tree farm estimated to cost nearly $6,000; the cost of removing the stump of the dead tree, which was estimated at $400; a $3,700 fee for a survey of their land; and court and legal fees, which they said have already reached $12,000.
Coombs and Brandt allege in the suit that there had been confusion 20 years ago about where the property line was, so they took a tape measure and determined the line separating their property from Lowry’s. Then Coombs and Brandt started “planting trees and bushes to provide privacy and slow the flow of trash from their yard to ours,” according to the complaint.
But Lowry says the tree was on his property. Lowry said Brandt had asked him whether he could plant the tree where they wanted to, and Lowry gave him permission. In addition, Lowry told the BND he’d often mowed that part of the property. After his neighbors trimmed a few branches, though, he said the tree looked bad, so he cut it down.
“It was me who cut the tree down,” Lowry said. “I never gave a thought that it wasn’t my tree. In my mind, that was my tree.”
In the complaint, however, Coombs and Brandt allege that they maintained the property where the tree had been for at least the past five years.
After the tree was cut down, Brandt called the Fairview Heights Police Department, and two officers arrived.
It was me who cut the tree down. I never gave a thought that it wasn’t my tree. In my mind, that was my tree.
Fairview Heights Alderman Roger Lowry
Brandt showed one of the officers an aerial photo of the land that indicated the property line. The officer wrote in a police report that the photo appeared to show that the tree had been on Coombs’ and Brandt’s property. The officer estimated that the tree was on their side of the line by about 5 feet. To determine where the property line was exactly, Brandt and Coombs eventually hired a licensed surveyor who measured the land and put stakes along the border. Then Brandt and Coombs put up an orange plastic fence on the line.
Three days after the police visited, Brandt gave them a copy of some surveillance footage of the incident. He and Coombs had previously installed a camera that overlooked part of their property, as well as the cut-down tree.
According to a police report, the surveillance footage appears to show Lowry bending the top of the tree toward his property with a rope and sawing it down as two people, who appear to be his son and wife, watched and possibly took pictures.
On Aug. 18, Lowry gave a statement to Fairview Heights Police, according to a police report. In it, Lowry described a different tree, an oak, that he’d cut down two years earlier. He and Brandt had agreed it was on Lowry’s property, according to his statement. Lowry then stated that the evergreen he’d recently cut down was even “farther on to his property than the oak tree,” according to the police report.
After gathering more evidence, the Fairview Heights Police Department sought charges at the St. Clair County State’s Attorney’s office Sept. 9, but prosecutors denied the request Oct. 11 due to “insufficient evidence of the suspect’s intent to prove he knowingly damaged the property of the victim’s.”
In addition to filing the suit, Brandt and Coombs on Jan. 20 erected a makeshift tombstone and yellow caution tape near the tree stump. After a few days, with bad weather pending, they took it down.
An initial hearing scheduled for Jan. 24 was postponed after it was found that Brandt and Coombs filed their suit incorrectly, Brandt said. They obtained new counsel and refiled the suit, which now includes Lowry’s wife, he said.
The next court date is scheduled for Feb. 9.