On Tuesday afternoon, Wayne Barnes, friend and former landlord of accused Toomer’s oaks poisoner Harvey Updyke, was the first caller to The Paul Finebaum Radio Show on the air with Glennon Threatt, Finebaum’s guest and the fourth attorney associated with Updyke’s case in just one week. In addition to entertaining listeners with Updyke’s amusing life-long Bama pedigree (children named Crimson and Bear, Tide boxes and toilet paper, etc.), Barnes answered several of Finebaum’s questions regarding the case, including whether Updyke — who, despite his online and on air confessions, supposedly denied that he poisoned the trees when questioned by police — had any familiarity with or access to Spike 80DF, the herbicide applied to the trees.
Barnes replied that Updyke had “never been in any kind of business associated with (Spike 80DF).” Upon hearing Barnes’ answer, Threatt laughed and replied, “that’s the best news I’ve heard all day.”
Barnes also suggested that Updyke’s ill health might have prevented him from applying the herbicide, which he theorized must have been done at night (we certainly hope Harvey is healthy enough to find a tree on which to relieve himself at night while living out in the woods). However, in an interview after last week’s initial press conference regarding the case, Auburn agronomy professor Stephen Enloe told TWER that Spike 80DF was easy to use — the poisoner could have “just mixed it up in a Coke can and knocked it over” — and virtually harmless to humans.
But did Updyke need to be professionally familiar with Spike 80DF to have purchased it?
Judging from its dangerous and technical sounding name, we just kind of assumed that, yeah… you actually had to be somebody to get hold of Spike 80DF — if not a professional tree-killer, at least someone with credentials, licenses, degrees, something. That’s why we asked Scott McElroy, a professor in the Auburn College of Agriculture’s Department of Turf Management, if “Al from Dadeville’s” choice of Spike 80DF suggested professional knowledge of herbicides. And that’s likely why McElroy said that it did.
Though McElroy said that Spike, or tebuthiuron, doesn’t require a license for purchase, he did not think that it was readily available from anywhere other than farmer cooperatives.
“It’s an expensive herbicide. It’s not cheap to go buy,” McElroy told TWER last week. “They don’t sell a lot of this. It’s not like you go to Lowes or Home Depot to pick it up. There’s not a lot of people who buy it.”
But though the selection of Spike 80DF for the Toomer’s poisoning might suggest it, familiarity with the product is by no means necessary to use or even choose it; Spike 80DF is included in an About.com list of herbicides returned as the second result of a Google search for “what herbicide will kill a tree?”
And those who do have cause to buy Spike 80DF can apparently purchase it hassle-free from several online outlets, including eBay*.
Four pounds of Spike 80DF will cost you $160 on the internet auction site. Twenty-five pounds will cost you $350. We’re assuming both of these would contain the “excessive amount” used to poison the Toomer’s oaks — according to Enloe, an effective application rate is 5 pounds per acre.
* For what it’s worth, the location of the only seller of Spike we could find on eBay is listed as Humble, Texas. Humble is in Harris County, which is where Harvey Updyke, according to a Nexis database search of public records, lived and failed to pay taxes for much of the 1990s. Updyke is also listed as having been a police officer in Southside Place, which is also in Harris County.
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