Woman who cut school trees must do community service

A Central Point woman was sentenced Tuesday in Jackson County Circuit Court for chopping down three trees last February that students had planted near the town's elementary school last fall.

Phyllis Ingram Fairless, 65, of the 100 block of Bush Street, pleaded guilty to second-degree criminal mischief before Judge Ron Grensky. An additional misdemeanor charge of second-degree criminal trespass was dismissed in the plea agreement. Grensky sentenced Fairless to 18 months' probation and 24 hours of community service. He also ordered her to pay $200 in restitution.

Prosecutor Nick Geil said Fairless is protesting the restitution amount. Another hearing will be scheduled to review her objections, he said.

Central Point police moved promptly in citing Fairless as a suspect as she had a history of bizarre behavior and conflicts with neighbors, Lt. Chuck Newell said. Officers have been called to remove her from school grounds in the past when she acted oddly and refused to leave, Newell said. She also is known to have problems with other neighbors, possibly because of a health issue, he said.

Jackson County court records show Fairless has previous convictions for animal abandonment and improper use of 9-1-1.

The elementary school students were upset to discover three of 10 sweet gum trees they planted had been cut down and covered with salt in an apparent effort to halt regrowth. The trees, grown to slender saplings from tiny seedlings by fifth-grade teacher Mack Lewis, were given names and birth certificates when the children planted them.

News of Fairless' tree-eradication efforts reached Billy Bob Thornton, for whom one of the trees was named, prompting the actor/musician to send a message to students through a representative. Thornton offered to donate a tree and directed his staff to post a message Feb. 3 on teacher Mack Lewis' fifth-grade class Web site, dubbed "The Daily Platypus."

The community responded quickly, flooding the school with donations and offers of help. The new trees, including Billy Bob Thornton Jr., were replanted thanks to the combined efforts of the kids and city parks, streets and water crews.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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