HAINES CITY, Fla. (WFLA) — A Florida man is accused of stealing a backhoe and targeting homes with Joe Biden yard signs, and witnesses call it a “sign of the times.”
“Are you kidding me? I don’t even believe it,” Adam Burgess said about the incident that happened Saturday at the home he owns in Haines City.
He received a call from a neighbor, Cornelius Marion, who saw the backhoe driving down the road.
Marion heard the man behind the wheel speaking loudly and saw him pull into Burgess’ property, which had two Biden signs in the front yard.
“We see him grabbing the sign, the Biden/Harris sign, taking them up and then he threw them into the (backhoe). That’s really strange,” said Marion.
Before the man left, police say he crashed into the fence. Marion got into his truck and followed him to a nearby home where the man repeated the behavior with a Biden sign.
“He just took the (backhoe) and dropped it and just dug it up,” said Marion. Police say he also damaged a city speed limit sign.
Police later found 26-year-old James Blight driving the backhoe and arrested him. Blight stole the backhoe from an Arby’s construction site, according to police.
“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,” Haines City Police Chief Jim Elensky said in a statement. “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.”
Blight told police he had been drinking whiskey all day and couldn’t remember what happened.
“He said that he couldn’t help but hit the Joe Biden signs and acknowledged he took down a fence in the process. Blight said he did not know how to operate the equipment,” Haines City police said in a statement.
Police said he did not show signs of impairment in his interaction with detectives. A witness who spoke with him in the neighborhood agreed.
“He didn’t seem drunk. He seemed euphoric or something. I can’t even describe it. He seemed happy,” said Reginald Flowers. “Sign of the times, I guess. Regrettably.”
Burgess believes his neighborhood was targeted, “He decides to drive to the one neighborhood that just happens to be almost entirely African-American and start destroying property, and that’s ridiculous.”
Burgess blames rhetoric from President Donald Trump.
“It emboldens people that are racist and that are biased and that think that they are superior to other groups of people based on the color of their skin,” he said.
Haines City Police said there have not been any specific cases this election season involving vandalism or theft of Donald Trump signs but complaints regarding political signs are common every election year.
“Seen a lot of reports of people pulling up Trump signs, people pulling up Biden signs. For him to take up the sign and then run over the fence, that was overboard,” said Marion. “To go to the extent to want to destroy property, it’s just nonsense. It’s not going to sway your vote one way or the other.”
Burgess added more Biden signs and banners to his home after the incident.
Blight, a transient, was arrested for trespassing on a construction site, grand theft greater than $20,000 and criminal mischief charges.