Who would want to steal a tree?

That’s what some employees of Gainesville’s Arby’s Restaurant are wondering after the theft of a tree from a landscaped area near the drive-through of the roast beef restaurant early Saturday morning.

Apparently, the tree was removed from property some time in the early hours of the morning, although the reason for the theft is still anyone’s guess.

Assistant Manager Cherie Hyatt said Monday afternoon while no one is certain exactly what time the theft occurred, they believe it must have happened between 3 a.m. when the night shift left the property and 5 a.m. when the day shift arrived to open the restaurant on Saturday morning.

Hyatt was not sure what kind of tree was taken, but said another tree of the same relative size and of the same species is across from the drive-through. After looking at a sample of leaves taken from that tree, Wayne Becker, Cooke County Extension Agent, Agriculture and Natural Resources, said the missing tree is a live oak.

Hyatt said it appeared to her that the culprit first attempted to remove the tree with some device such as a chain and a pickup. When that failed, she said, the thief apparently began sawing or hacking away at the tree’s trunk and roots.

However the deed was accomplished, the thief left the scene with the tree. The only traces of it are disturbed soil and damaged roots in the spot where the tree was.

“The tree was an established tree, and it’s expensive to replace due to the size,” Hyatt said.

She also said that a man who visited Arby’s drive-through window early Sunday morning told an Arby’s employee an odd story about the tree.

“Yesterday morning, a man came through in a white pickup and he reported that he had been to a party the night before and a man was bragging about it (stealing the tree) at the party,” she said. “He said the man had the tree at home in his front yard.”

Hyatt said the customer then said he gave police the man’s license plate number.

Gainesville Police Chief Carl Dunlap said he is aware of several leads in the case, but wouldn’t comment on the story about the man in the drive-through.

He did say that when caught, the suspect will be charged with theft — a crime for which the punishment depends upon the value of the property stolen.

In this case, it isn’t easy to place a value on the tree.

Janet Hutson of Calla Lily Garden Center said her company did landscaping for Arby’s just before the restaurant opened, but she isn’t sure whether or not the tree was part of the recent landscaping.

Hyatt said she believes the tree was already in place before Arby’s opened.

However, one thing is certain: Trees are not cheap.

Hutson said live oak trees in 15 gallon buckets go for $99. Larger live oaks, such as a 30-gallon live oak are $250. She said Calla Lily had a hundred gallon live oak tree that sold for $500 earlier this year.

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