HENDERSON, Nev. – Cloaked by darkness, a saw tucked under his jacket, Douglas Hoffman skulked through suburbia, methodically killing trees.
He severed some. Others he sliced just enough so they would slowly die. In a year’s time, authorities said, he wiped out more than 500 trees near an upscale retirement community just south of Las Vegas.
Greenery, he had complained to a homeowners’ committee, was blocking his view of The Strip.
In October, a jury convicted Hoffman, 60, on 10 charges in the destruction of a quarter-million dollars’ worth of mesquite and Texas honey trees. He is scheduled to be sentenced in January and could get up to 35 years in prison.
The “arborcide,” as one attorney dubbed it, has resonated in Clark County, where hillsides in recent years have been overrun with sand-colored homes and transplanted trees. In many neighborhoods, glimpses of the Spring and Muddy Mountain ranges – and The Strip’s neon skyline – have vanished.
The retirement haven of Sun City Anthem is typical of the neighborhoods that have ballooned Henderson’s population from almost 65,000 in 1990 to more than 240,000 last year. The development’s 7,000 or so homes are governed by a list of rules that took a real-estate agent more than an hour to explain, said Charles Davis, a resident who runs a Sun City Web site.
Five years ago, Hoffman and his wife, Debbie – who live most of the year in Goodyear, Ariz. – bought a 1,632 square-foot home on Colvin Run Drive.
Douglas Hoffman, who had retired from military base construction work, had taken landscaping classes and spent hours pruning in the Henderson yard. “Plant life is precious to him,” said Debbie Hoffman, 44. “It’s not a human life, but it’s a life. When a bush would die, he wouldn’t be crying-upset, but he’d be upset.”
Sun City was in its infancy when they moved into their home, with a back deck that overlooked the peaks rimming the valley and The Strip. Soon the trees, some of which had grown 8 feet tall, marred the couple’s view. The Hoffmans asked if they could swap them out for shrubs but were told no, Davis said.
In October 2004, the tops of about 60 nearby trees were lopped off. “We thought it was a fluke thing, maybe teenagers,” said Sasha Jackowich, a spokeswoman for the community’s developer, Pulte Homes.
On Nov. 26, 2005, just after midnight, William Edwards was driving to his home when he noticed a freshly cut tree and saw someone disappear into the dark. A retired sheriff’s deputy, Edwards pulled over, grabbed an 8-iron from his trunk and gave chase, according to court testimony.
Edwards caught up with Hoffman. Yes, he told Edwards, he lived in Sun City. No, he hadn’t seen anyone messing with trees.
Edwards patted Hoffman down. He found a single-blade saw.
Authorities scoured the area where Hoffman was apprehended and counted dozens of slashed trees.
When they searched his home, they found a seven-page screed against the community’s landscaping. Hoffman’s wife told them that her husband had whacked back some branches in order to get a better view of The Strip. The foliage slaughter that followed was Hoffman’s plan to cover up his initial chopping, Deputy District Attorney Josh Tomsheck said.