Model train area hit again

For the second time this month, the Orange County Model Engineers group has reported major vandalism at its ridable train setup in Costa Mesa's Fairview Park.

Six park tables at Goathill Junction, which is what the nearly 40-acre rail attraction is called, were vandalized between 4 p.m. Sunday and 11 a.m. Tuesday, said Costa Mesa police Lt. Greg Scott.

It appears that vandals may have jumped on the tables, Scott said.

Club spokesman Hank Castignetti said Wednesday that the vandals broke four wooden and two metal tables, causing as much as $3,000 in damage.

The tables, a donation from the city's park system, were located in a private gathering area within the model train club's layout.

A chain attaching one of the tables to the ground was broken, and the table was moved to an area under the main bridge, Castignetti said, though a Mesa Verde resident has since volunteered to help put things back together.

An estimated $200 in damage to an unused irrigation control box beneath the bridge was also reported, police said.

The box appeared to have been pried open with a metal piece used to secure the tracks, Castignetti said.

"This is the first time we've seen wholesale destruction like that," he said.

Earlier this month, the model engineers reported thefts of their aluminum tracks, worth as much as $9,000.

The motive that time was probably to sell the tracks for scrap metal, police said.

This time it appears that destruction alone was the motive.

Club members have said they are going to invest in better security.

Graffiti was also found on the bridge this week and last, though such defacing is quite common, according to city staff.

"For us, it's a usual thing," said Gaetano Russo, a longtime city maintenance worker who removes graffiti throughout town.

Russo said he goes to the Goathill Junction once or twice a week to check up.

"Usually they call it in, but if I'm in the area, I'll go there and check anyway," he said.

The bridge, a concrete wall underneath it and the station are usual targets, he said.

Castignetti said the group is worried that the recent incidents may be gang-related.

"This is getting way, way more complex than just the railroad club can deal with," he said.

Costa Mesa police aren't making any assumptions yet, however.

Lt. Paul Dondero said the department has no information that "directly correlates" the vandalism to any gang activity, "but those suspicions and information are being looked at to make a better determination."

Police can't have someone constantly monitoring the train setup, Dondero said, but they have invested considerable resources in investigating past incidents at Goathill Junction.

Dondero said police know how people feel about the ridable trains.

"Is this homicide case? No," he said, "but it's something that has an effect on the whole community, and it's something that everyone in this community values. That's important to us."

Community support has flooded in since the theft reports. The Costa Mesa-Newport Harbor Lions Club, Goat Hill Tavern and Costa Mesa police and fire unions have all donated money.

Castignetti said the group's postal box continues to see "huge stacks of checks," though a final tally from all the donations — including the ones gathered at the club's on-site donation box — hasn't been calculated.

"This is so heartwarming," Castignetti said. "I get choked up sometimes thinking about what these people are doing for us."

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