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New downtown Duluth transit center vandalized

An 18-year-old man allegedly used a mallet to cause in excess of $50,000 damage to the new Duluth Transportation Center on Michigan Street Saturday night. (DTA photo)1 / 3
An 18-year-old man allegedly used a mallet to cause in excess of $50,000 damage to the new Duluth Transportation Center on Michigan Street Saturday night. (DTA photo)2 / 3
An 18-year-old man allegedly used a mallet to cause in excess of $50,000 damage to the new Duluth Transportation Center on Michigan Street Saturday night. (DTA photo)3 / 3

An 18-year-old Duluth man is in custody following a break-in Saturday at the construction site of the new $30 million Duluth Transportation Center on Michigan Street.

The suspect is alleged to have used a mallet taken from the construction site as he roved through the center and caused in excess of $50,000 in damages, said Dennis Jensen, general manager of the Duluth Transit Authority. The man is additionally suspected of numerous vehicle prowls on the site.

"It's malicious damage," Jensen said Monday. "But it could have been a lot worse. Had he known what he was doing, it could have been a lot worse."

Arrested shortly after the incident by police using a K-9 tracker, Jensen said, the suspect was found hiding in the DTA's existing transportation center that has an entrance on the 200 block of West Superior Street. That center is being connected to the new site with a new skywalk over Michigan Street and the suspect, Jensen said, looked to have used the new skywalk in his effort to escape.

The Duluth Police Department is investigating the incident. A spokesman with the police, Russ Bradley, confirmed the man is in St. Louis County Jail facing two counts of criminal damage to property, including one felony. Bradley said there were approximately 15 vehicle prowls that coincided with the vandalism at the center.

"What we know right now is he broke a water main, and there is damage sustained because of that water main break," Bradley said, adding that investigators were not available to expound on the incident due to being off work for the holiday on Monday.

The suspect will appear in court later this week, Bradley said. The News Tribune generally does not name defendants until they are formally charged.

Jensen, who was called to the scene late Saturday, said the man was found in possession of a bag that contained items pilfered from vehicles parked in the lot.

While the Duluth Transportation Center remains a construction site, with a grand opening scheduled for Feb. 4, contract parking on the site began earlier this month. Jensen guessed that most of the vehicles parked at the center belonged to hockey fans who walked across the Northwest Passage skywalk to attend the evening's collegiate hockey game at Amsoil Arena.

Both the police and Duluth Fire Department responded to the scene sometime around 10 p.m. on Saturday, Jensen said, when individuals who had parked in the center's ramp began to complain about their cars having been prowled. Alternately, firefighters responded to an alarm regarding water pressure at the Duluth Transportation Center.

Jensen described an assault on the center that saw the man roving throughout both the parking garage and inside the main terminal, which houses ticketing for the DTA and other busing enterprises as well as a substation for the local police. The suspect smashed security cameras and computer monitors, printers and servers, including the server that operates the automated parking teller and its entrance gates. He smashed data ports and electrical outlets. He hammered on the interior of an elevator car. He severed pipes leading to a hot water heater and he broke off a shower head, causing flooding within the terminal that the firefighters cleaned up.

The suspect also pounded on scanners that read employee security cards, and pads — required by the American with Disabilities Act — that activate automatic pedestrian doors to open.

"When he finally did get to the camera room, he really went to work," Jensen said. "Fortunately we were able to download images today because he missed one of the servers that contained video images."

Jensen said police suspected just the one man as the culprit. Jensen hesitated to put a dollar value on the damages, but said he knew it was more than $50,000.

Jensen spent much of Monday working with the contractor, Mortenson Construction, and insurance companies. Jensen explained the DTA already has taken over the parking garage, but the terminal remained a construction site under the responsibility of Mortenson.

"We have to re-evaluate (security)," Jensen said. "It's been one of our concerns from the start of the project."

Jensen said there have been minor cases of theft and vandalism — people stealing extension cords for the copper, he said — but nothing on the order of the weekend's crime. While the water did not rise into any of the walls' underlying Sheetrock, Jensen worried about moisture damage that may reveal itself going forward.

The incident wasn't expected to affect the grand opening next month, though it may affect some of the other entities moving into the facility, including Jefferson Lines and Indian Trails — bus lines that reach out to the greater Northland and Michigan, respectively.

"We just have to move ahead," Jensen said. "It'll delay some move-ins, but we're going to go ahead and hold our grand opening Feb. 4."