The man accused of stealing the well-known Pickles Deli sign last week was arrested again this week for breaking the beloved whale bell in Langley’s aptly named Whale Bell Park, according to court documents.
Susan Berta and Howard Garrett of the Orca Network donated the antique brass bell in 2009; it had belonged to her mother, who owned an antique store, according to a Record story about the installation. Metal artist Tim Leonard built the mount for it.
Located next to the “wishing whale” sculpture in the park — which is the entrance to the seaside Seawall Park — the bell is rung to alert people that whales have been spotted. Gray whales tend to stop by Langley in March and June to feed on the ghost shrimp hiding in the mud.
“It’s such a prime location for seeing whales,” Garrett said this week.
On Wednesday, a witness reported to police that a man, later identified as Christopher Moritz, had “aggressively” broken the bell and the mount, according to a report by Langley Police Chief Tavier Wasser. Moritz was seen parking his truck — leaving the door open — in downtown Langley and then charging down the middle of Anthes Avenue to the seaside park, where he destroyed the iconic bell.
Wasser located Moritz driving on Crawford Road, pulled him over and arrested him.
Moritz told the chief that he had been excited about seeing a tugboat in the water and wanted to ring the bell, but became upset when he couldn’t figure out how to do it. He admitted to “using too much force,” Wasser wrote.
A 2009 Record story states that the bell was installed without a clapper out of concern that it would be rung constantly. The plan was that someone at the nearby Langley Chamber of Commerce would run over and whack the bell with a hammer when whales were spotted.
Moritz appeared in Island County Superior Court Jan. 19 and the judge found that probable cause existed to believe Moritz committed the crime of malicious mischief in the second degree.
The judge released Moritz on personal recognizance on the condition that he is first interviewed by a mental health professional for possible commitment to a mental treatment facility.
Last week, Moritz was arrested for allegedly stealing the large pickle-shaped sign from the Clinton sandwich shop, dancing around town with it and bringing it to the same seaside park in Langley. He appeared in court Jan. 11 and the judge likewise ordered that he should be interviewed by a mental health professional for possible commitment. A designated crisis responder determined that Moritz did not present harm to himself, others or the property of others and he was released from jail.
Garrett said the destruction of the bell is disheartening and he hopes the perpetrator gets the help he needs. He said he has no doubt that, one way or another, it will be replaced.
Mayor Scott Chaplin said he will contact the city’s insurance provider to see what can be done.