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Businessman’s Flag Defaced With Paint : Vandalism: Red hand prints were left on a building housing the office of Rep. Christopher Cox. Anti-war protesters may have been responsible.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A huge American flag hanging over the Costa Mesa Freeway in support of U.S. troops abroad was vandalized Monday with splotches of blue paint, but the defiant businessman who displayed the Stars and Stripes promised to hang an even bigger one in its place.

“I just can’t imagine the mentality of someone who would deface the United States flag,” said Dan O’Neil, 48, president and co-owner of O’Neil Moving Systems on south Ritchey Street in Santa Ana.

At the same time, hand prints in red paint were discovered across the front glass doors and windows of a Newport Beach building that houses, among about 40 occupants, the district office of Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach).

Neither incident was reported to police, and officials at both sites said they were baffled as to the motives.

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But offering one possible link between the two cases was an anonymous call to the Orange County office of The Times on Monday morning, suggesting that the newspaper check out the two addresses that were vandalized.

The caller indicated that the hand prints might have been directed at Cox’s office inside the Security Pacific Bank building and that anti-war sentiments might have been a motive in both incidents.

“I don’t know what to make of it,” said Robert Kleban, asset manager at Koll Management Services, which runs the bank building in Newport Beach where the hand prints appeared. “We could all speculate. But at this point, we’re treating it as a minor inconvenience that we can clean up fairly easily.”

In Washington, Cox’s press secretary Peter Slen said: “My first assumption would be (that the incident was) war-related. . . . But whether this was directed at Congressman Cox or not, that we don’t know.”

O’Neil’s flag, measuring 15 feet by 20 feet, often drew encouraging honks in recent weeks from motorists on the freeway. Employees found six or seven splotches on the flag and became upset given the start of the ground war in the Persian Gulf and the threat of massive casualties, O’Neil said.

“We’ve had a lot of flags stolen, but we haven’t heard anything about” flags being vandalized, Lt. Earl Porter of the Santa Ana Police Department said when informed about the incident by The Times.

O’Neil said a Southland radio deejay offered to help clean the flag, but the moving executive isn’t sure he will accept. Since flying the flag “just seemed like the proper thing to do,” he said, “this whole thing just makes me want to go out and get an even larger flag and put it up.”


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