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Pranksters topple iconic statue; Attempt to steal half-ton Indian chief leaves figure significantly damaged

A 28-foot-tall fiberglass statue of an Indian chief, seen daily by thousands of Thruway travelers, was toppled early Wednesday morning -- apparently at the hands of about a half-dozen Clarence High School pranksters.

Cyrus Schindler, the owner of Big Indian Smoke Shop on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation where the statue has stood sentinel for nearly two decades, was in a forgiving mood Wednesday evening, but thinks the students should make good for what they did.

"I don't want to ruin a kid's life over this," Schindler said when asked whether he'd press charges in connection with the attempted theft, which resulted in the statue being significantly damaged. "I want them to understand [what they did was wrong]."

He added: "Either their parents have to do something or they should do some community-service work."

Clarence Schools Superintendent Geoffrey M. Hicks was at a school function Wednesday evening and could not be reached to comment.

The toppled statue was found early Wednesday.

Schindler said his daughter, Chrissy, received a text message at 6:20 a.m. from a friend who works for the state Thruway Authority. The statue was laying on its left side, in a ditch parallel to the westbound Thruway.

Though hollow, the statue weighs more than 1,000 pounds, according to Schindler. It had been attached at four points to a metal pole and a concrete base, and enclosed by heavy metal gates.

The statue was broken at the heels; most of its feet still are attached to the metal base frame. The headdress was broken and there were cracks to the chief's head. A cable was wrapped around its torso, and the hand is missing from the outstretched right arm.

"We looked for the hand but we couldn't find [it]," Schindler said.

Schindler said he will get the Indian chief fixed and back up in position along the Thruway, but noted "it's going to take us awhile."

Schindler believed right away the motive was theft.

"It wasn't just vandalism," he said. "The effort they went to, taking down the gates, rolling it down the hill. I think somebody was trying to steal it."

"What would you do with it?" he asked.

Later, that became clear.

"A kids' prank. I can understand," said Schindler.

Late Wednesday, the grassy shoulder of the Thruway still was flattened from the imprint of tires from a vehicle.

It would have taken an open flatbed truck -- 30 feet long or better -- to move the statue, Schindler said.

The failed prank apparently occurred between about 11 p.m. Tuesday and about 6 a.m. Wednesday.

State police responded to the scene near the Irving exit and reportedly found some tools that were left behind. The investigator assigned to the case couldn't be reached.

Schindler said troopers told him that about six students from Clarence were involved in the prank.

"I'm wondering, how [were] they going to get through the toll booths with that?" he said. "[Troopers] said, 'kids don't think ahead.' They don't think 'how are you going to get it on the trailer.' "

Schindler said he bought the statue about 12 years ago from Seneca Pottery in East Avon, which closed in 1998.

"When they went out of business, they had an auction of all their stuff," he explained.

He paid $18,000 for the statue, which originally stood at the Iroquois Brewery in Buffalo.

It is believed the statue was made by International Fiberglass in Venice, Calif., Schindler said.

According to RoadsideAmerica.com, the statue is considered part of a collection of fiberglass roadside giants known collectively as "Muffler Men." They were sold as attention-getters for retail businesses.

A second Indian statue, which Schindler acquired from the former Jamestown Brewery about 14 years ago, had stood atop a nearby building. After it blew down during a windstorm last winter, the roadside statue was given additional structural support, Schindler said.

The plan is to get the toppled statue back on its feet.

"We'll get him up out of there, restore him [and] put him back," Schindler said.

email: jhabuda@buffnews.com and tpignataro@buffnews.com