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More than 20 cars damaged by acidic substance

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    DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Victims of vandalism gather on Gay Street in Tamaqua early Saturday to inspect acid-type damage to the paint on some 25 cars.
Published August 03. 2014 12:10AM

Damage is in the thousands of dollars, possibly tens of thousands, after an early morning vandalism spree in Tamaqua early Saturday.

The exterior finish on about 25 parked cars was damaged overnight by a caustic chemical that quickly ate through the vehicles' clear coat layer, then dissolved the paint, leaving bare metal exposed in a pattern of dots and marks along the full length of each car.

The vehicles will need extensive re-painting, according to those affected. Some owners had already talked to body repair shops. Others still hadn't reported damage to police, while still others hadn't yet discovered the damage.

Professional painting of the side of a vehicle can run in the $1,500 range or higher, said victims, some of whom were busy contacting their insurance agents.

Plastic lens covers, turn signals, bumpers and even car roofs also were damaged.

Most of the vehicles were parked along Gay Street in the borough's North Ward section.

Among the cars impacted was a Tamaqua fire chief vehicle, a red Laredo.

Driver Jim Connely was advised that the offending chemical was very caustic, similar to airplane paint remover.

"It doesn't stop until it hits metal," an auto body repairman told Connely.

Gay Street is a narrow, one-way street with parking on both sides. However, the damaged cars all had been parked on the east side. The vandalism appears to have been done by a person who sat on the passenger side of a moving vehicle and squirted the substance from a can or container.

The chemical was likely thick because it stayed in place as it made contact with the cars. It did not appear to drip.

"It doesn't run," said Bud Comisac, whose mint-condition, 2008 silver Ford Edge sustained damage along the entire length of the vehicle.

"I'm disgusted," he said. "I take pride in what I own."

A shiny new blue BMW owned by Comisac's neighbor also sustained damage, as did virtually every vehicle parked on that side of the street.

Many said the chemical appears to have been fast-acting, similar to brake cleaning fluid or acid.

Many of the victims expressed outrage over the senseless act.

"I only got this car three months ago. I'm so disgusted," said neighbor Patty Rinkenberg Berk, standing next to her damaged Chevrolet.

One of the first to notice something was wrong was resident Jen Stianche, who left her house early morning. She spotted damage to her 2005 Nissan.

"I was getting ready to set up for the yard sale," she said.

Members of a family at 104 Gay St. said they sat out on their front porch until very late and all was quiet.

"I was out here on the front porch until 3 a.m. and no car came down the street," said Jessie Gommer.

Residents believe the spree took place somewhere between 3 a.m. and perhaps 6 a.m.

There also were unconfirmed reports of similarly damaged cars on Washington Street.

In addition, there were reports of cars that had been egged along Market and Hunter streets and a report of cars spray-painted at a Tamaqua new car dealership, all happening early Saturday.

"People have no respect for anyone else's property," said resident Bill McLaughlin, who recently moved to Gay Street from the East End of the community.

Police were busy taking damage report calls as residents discovered the vandalism.

Tamaqua Crime Watch is offering a one-time $250 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the parties responsible.

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