Troopers: one arrested, two at large in I-5 graffiti incident

SEATTLE -- One person was arrested and two more remain at large after allegedly spray-painting several pillars along the freeway in Seattle around 3:30 a.m., investigators said.

The incident, which was captured in part on state Department of Transportation cameras, shows three people wearing all black, walking along the shoulder near the carpool lanes along I-5 southbound at Pike Street. One person takes a photo of another person next to some graffiti before troopers arrive on-scene.

The three suspects scattered when investigators got there, said Trooper Karim Boukabou of the Washington State Patrol. One young man is facing charges of trespassing and malicious mischief, Boukabou said.

"It's a nuisance. It's a quality of life issue. It makes Seattle look bad," said Seattle Police Detective Chris Young. "They want to get an adrenaline rush from doing something illegal and maybe dangerous."

About 800 graffiti incidents are reported each year in Seattle, Young said, but many are not reported. Only about 10 percent are ever prosecuted.

Young, a graffiti investigator for Seattle Police since 2011, believes he is the only full-time graffiti investigator in Washington state. He often uses fingerprints, video surveillance, and witness accounts to go after the people responsible.

"If you ask people who does this, they'll tell you it's 'artistic endeavors,' but in reality it's not," Young said. "They're doing it for attention-seeking behavior, because they want their friends to see it, and for thrill-seeking behavior."

Graffiti cleanup of public places costs taxpayers about $2 million per year in Seattle, he added, with additional costs to private businesses. Seattle's graffiti nuisance ordinance requires private property owners to clean up their own buildings and businesses "in a timely manner," or face a fine of up to $100 per day.

"Eighty to 90 percent of (the graffiti on Aurora Avenue) happened within a week of when this (business) closed," said Tim Ley, pointing to a vacant building in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood.

Ley owns a business nearby.

"We want this full of businesses that care and go out and paint it over, chase them away, and we want the police to do something about it," Ley added.

Seattle's Chinatown, Downtown and Ballard neighborhoods remain the biggest problem spots for the city, Young said, but some taggers continue to target moving objects.

"Not only, obviously, does it do damage to private property but it's illegal and dangerous," said Gus Melonas, a spokesman for BNSF Railway, which has an internal police force that issues citations for graffiti.

"If it's offensive, if it's on something stationary, we will remove it, but we can't remove everything," he continued, "and the majority of the hits we get from these taggers is on moving equipment."

"It's impossible to paint every rail car that receives damage," Melonas said," but we're very aggressive right now and we just can't tolerate it."