EDMONTON — The Canadian Press Last updated on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009 02:58AM EDT
Owners of pint-sized Smart cars aren't laughing about reports that vandals may be targeting the tiny vehicles in a 21st-century take on tipping over cows.
The Internet and blogosphere are abuzz with media reports that pranksters may have pushed several of the tiny vehicles into canals in Amsterdam.
And now a man in his 40s is charged with mischief for allegedly tipping a Smart car onto its side along Edmonton's Whyte Avenue, a trendy bar-and-boutique strip that sometimes attracts rowdy drinkers.
The car's windows, exterior mirrors and panelling were damaged, and despite the outrage of owner Kevin Spaans, amused bystanders posed with the flipped car and snapped photos with their cellphone cameras.
Police are seeking other suspects, but one official said it appears to have been an isolated occurrence.
Ken Lust, sales manager at David Morris Fine Cars, which sells the popular car, said goofing around with it isn't a harmless prank but rather a brazen act of property damage.
Mr. Lust has himself been a victim. Three years ago, he went outside one morning on a property he owns northeast of Edmonton to find that somebody had tipped his Smart car over during the night.
"The first reaction is shock and disbelief. The second reaction is anger because your car has been vandalized. It's the same feeling, I guess, if you walked out and saw your paint all scratched up or your windows smashed in," he said.
No one was ever arrested. Mr. Lust believes it was the work of several fellows who probably had too much to drink that night.
The sales manager spent several hundred dollars repairing smashed windows and a bent gas cap.
"It's an act of vandalism, pure and simple, and I think if caught, [the perpetrators] should be punished severely."
Smart cars, which have become popular with commuters for superior gas mileage and cute looks, weigh about 725 kilograms.
The average cow tips the scales at about 600 kg. Some zoologists suggest stories of hooligans butting over bovines are "udder" nonsense because the animals would resist, making it next to impossible. But cyberspace is filled with such reports.
Some Smart car customers shell out up to $20,000 for a loaded model and use the vehicle's unique look to gain attention for their business.
"We sell a lot of Smart cars [to businesses] that want to use it as an advertising vehicle so they put their company name on it because it attracts attention," Mr. Lust said.
All that attention could also make the vehicle a target for vandals, he suggested.
Photos and grainy videos have popped up on the Internet and YouTube of people using brute strength and long poles to tip small cars and outraged owners have vented their anger on blogs.
The Alberta owner of a so-called "Smartie," who found it tipped on its side, was so furious he posted photos on the Internet and offered a reward of $1,000 for information leading to an arrest.
Another man whose three-year-old Smart car was reportedly flipped outside a home in west Seattle in June, causing thousands of dollars in damage, attracted digs from SUV owners and sympathy from others when he wrote about it on a blog.
"I'm sorry, too, but it's funny. They'll be able to laugh about it in a day or so. SUV hybrids are looking better all the time, ya think?" wrote someone using the name Looniebomber.
"To all that found humour in this story/picture, I can't help but to hope that karma comes a knockin' when you're three shades of furious, because someone else damages your property and you have to foot the bill," wrote Bruce W.
Some may think tipping over cars is harmless fun, but under the Criminal Code of Canada, mischief is a potentially serious offence, said Sanjeev Anand, a law professor at the University of Alberta.
"I think it's important for the public to understand that when you interfere with someone's property and you damage someone's property, it's not a simple prank. It is a criminal offence."
A conviction carries a variety of potential punishments, including a maximum sentence of between two and 10 years in jail, although such sentences are rare, Prof. Anand said.