By Hunter Hine, Staff Writer
(Aug. 10, 2023) The owners of Zoom Car Wash, a business off Route 50 near Walmart captured security camera footage of a man taking down their 24-by-32 foot American flag, and then writing on it in black marker.
At first, the incident appeared to be an act of mean-spirited vandalism that led to outrage in some quarters, but Zoom’s owners later found that might not have been the case at all.
The incident happened between 10 p.m. and midnight on Aug. 4, when a man used his white Chevy Equinox to pull the flag down, and bent and damaged the 80-foot flagpole to which it was attached.
Owners Bruce Rogers and Charles Holland estimated the cost to remove and replace the flag pole at around $30,000. It cost Zoom $20,000 to install the original, and Holland assumed it would cost $10,000 for removal, Holland said.
“When you see the video, it’s unbelievable the amount of effort, but we know he was on the lot for two hours just being disruptive,” Rogers said Monday.
On Tuesday, Holland said that they got in touch with the suspect who expressed remorse for the damages.
Owners had put the flag at half-mast that night because of expected high winds so the flag wouldn’t tear or suffer damage. The man told Zoom’s owners that he had intended to raise the flag, but accidentally broke the pole in the process, Holland said.
The car wash’s video footage shows the man taking a rope and a safety harness out of a small trailer located by the dumpster behind Zoom’s main building. Using the two, he attached one end to his car and the other to a lock panel on the flagpole.
He drove the car away from the flagpole and broke open the panel, which contained a pulley system used to raise and lower the flag. The flagpole bent in the process, Holland said.
Then, the man hooked the line into the pulley system, drove away from it and broke it too, causing the flag to fall.
“It’s one thing to go out here and damage our coin machine or our equipment, we expect a certain amount of vandalism because the world is what it is today, but this to me is unacceptable,” Holland said Monday, before being in contact with the suspect. “I’m a veteran. I don’t agree with it … I don’t like anything about it.”
Holland served in the army from 1989-1997, he said.
Throughout Zoom’s surveillance videos, the man is seen seemingly showing the rings on his knuckles to the security camera and praying – at one point bending up and down at the waist repeating the phrase, “Oh my Lord, oh my God.”
Holland said the man was also filming himself with a separate camera.
Most of the writing on the flag was unintelligible, expect for a few words and phrases including “Every road has it’s thorns.”
Holland said his staff found a credit card on site after the incident, which they assumed was stolen. They turned it over to Maryland State Police, who is continuing to investigate the incident.
While speaking to Zoom’s owners earlier on Tuesday, the man said he left the card at the scene so that they could charge him for the damages, Holland said. He claimed to have confessed to State Police over the weekend after they called him in relation to finding the credit card, Holland said.
Maryland State Police said they could not confirm the suspect’s alleged confession, and that charges are pending the outcome of the investigation.
Holland said Maryland State Police ran the car’s Pennsylvania license plates, which were from a 2000 Acura that had been salvaged and were not registered to the Chevy.
On Sunday morning, the owners posted about the incident on the Zoom Car Wash Facebook page, asking the community for leads on finding the suspect. This was before Holland and Rogers got in contact with the man.
The post got over 1,100 shares in one day, and as of Tuesday it has 1,300.
One man commented on that post offering to donate an American flag that was flown in combat in Afghanistan as a replacement, and Holland said they intend to accept the offer.
On Tuesday, Holland said members of the Berlin American Legion were coming to pick up the fallen and drawn-on flag to ceremonially burn and retire it. He also said someone was coming Tuesday to assess the flagpole’s condition.