We previously discussed the senseless burning of the oldest pond cypress tree in the world — “The Senator” at Big Tree Park in Longwood. Now police have arrested the woman who they say committed the destruction. She is Sara Barnes. Barnes has been charged with the third degree felony of intentional burning of land. It was an over 3,500-year-old cypress tree . . . until it encountered Barnes in 2011.
The tree was named after Florida Sen. M. O. Overstreet, who in 1927 donated the property of the park. It was 120 feet tall with a trunk of nearly 18 feet in diameter.
Barnes reportedly told police that she and a friend stood inside the tree and lit a fire to see better. This would amount to essentially “I am a moron” defense by claiming stupidity rather than intent to burn. Yet, witnesses told police that she had pictures of the tree burning. It is not a good thing to be snapping pictures for friends when you say that you accidentally torched the world’s oldest pond cypress tree.
She has also been charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Jodi Hill, 41, was also arrested on charges of possession of methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Barnes’ Facebook account shows shots from happier times. One question for the court will be if (and how much) to aggravate the sentence on the third-degree arson in light of the historic status of the tree.
The police opted for the higher charge under the Florida statute:
590.28 Intentional or reckless burning of lands.—
(1) Whoever intentionally burns, sets fire to, or causes to be burned or causes any fire to be set to, any wild land or vegetative land clearing debris not owned by, or in the lawful possession of, the person setting such fire or burning such lands or causing such fire to be set or lands to be burned without complying with s. 590.125, commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
(2) Whoever recklessly burns, sets fire to, or causes to be burned any wild lands not owned by, or in the lawful possession of, the person setting the fire or burning the lands or causing the fire to be set or lands to be burned, commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
History.—s. 1, ch. 29919, 1955; s. 15, ch. 99-292; s. 33, ch. 2000-308.
This will not likely turn out well for Barnes, particularly if the police find images of the burning tree on her cellphone. It would seem likely that she will receive jail time in such a case — as likely as her new cellblock nickname of “Third Degree Barnes.”