Graffiti artist has brush with the law on I-393
A freshly painted SpongeBob SquarePants looks down on I-393 from the Eastside Drive overpassTuesday, December 4, 2012. The State Police say they caught Michael Toomey of Manchester in the act of paintting the overpass on Sunday afternoon. (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
A quick glance to the right while driving westbound on Interstate 393, under the Exit 2 bridge, reveals new artwork in town, but the local and state police are not real impressed.
At this spot, with cars buzzing nearby sometime after 2 p.m. Sunday, the police arrested a 35-year-old Manchester man for spray-painting colorful lettering and a cartoon superstar onto the giant rectangular piece of concrete that holds East Side Drive in place.
The state police said Michael Toomey was caught red-handed as he spray-painted images in Concord that included SpongeBob SquarePants and the word “HAZE,” in pink, purple and white lettering, onto the wall. Rubber gloves and a bag of spray-paint cans were taken as evidence.
Toomey, who the state police said works for a land surveying crew in Manchester, was charged with criminal mischief in an investigation that may lead to other related charges against him.
In a press release, the state police said they are seeking a search warrant for Toomey’s cell phone, which officials believe may contain photos of more handiwork.
“Most of these guys that do this leave their own design that is tailored to them,” said state Trooper Michael Pelletier, who responded to Sunday’s call. “What we will be doing is reaching out to local agencies, and if the same type of tagging and signatures or trademarks are in there, then this person could be charged if we investigate a lead that he also did this in other communities.”
The mural, easy to miss while driving at highway speeds, is an imposing image once noticed. It’s set back from I-393, maybe 75 feet behind nine massive girders that help support the bridge.
A floor of large bricks behind the girders angles steeply upward to the concrete slab, which looks to be about 8 feet high and 80 feet long. The facing of the rectangle is totally filled with images and writing.
To the far left stands yellow SpongeBob, skinny arms extended in both directions. The rest of the space is filled with psychedelic-style lettering, big and puffy, with the word “HAZE” clearly spelled out. A word to the far right is illegible, but looks like it might read, “DUWD.”
This evidence, the police believe, might reveal a pattern, leading to more charges against Toomey.
“We have materials that will hopefully show a link to other communities,” Pelletier said. “It’s very difficult to catch these people, unless you can provide proof of their signature art and take it back to them with an investigation, which is what we’re hopefully going to be able to do in this case.”
The state police were told about the crime by the Concord police, who were tipped off by a passing motorist. Both agencies converged on the scene and Toomey was arrested without incident. He was taken to police headquarters in Concord before being turned over to the state police, who are investigating the case because the crime occurred on state property.
Bill Boynton, spokesman for the Department of Transportation, was not aware of the arrest as of late yesterday afternoon. He said it’s a common occurrence and the DOT can only do so much to clean up the mess.
“Graffiti is a big and never-ending problem on sound walls and bridges,” Boynton said in an email. “I’m not sure how much we spend (to clean it). . . . it is not the highest of priorities given our funding challenges.”
Unlawful graffiti, or tagging, as the police call it, is not limited to any age bracket, said Pelletier, who’s worked with the New Hampshire State Police for 12 years. He said he was not surprised that Toomey is in his mid 30s.
“Graffiti knows no age limit,” said Pelletier, adding that it sometimes is connected to turf wars among gangs.
“To some degree and in some instances, it’s gang related, a territorial thing” Pelletier said. “However, I don’t believe that’s what it is in this case. It’s more of an art thing here. This could be a guy just posting his work.”
Toomey’s phone number was not listed in any state directory. He’ll be arraigned in Concord’s district court Jan. 7.