The offense is a felony because of the amount of damage done, authorities say.

WEST PALM BEACH - Vandals hopped a paltry plastic fence before dawn Thanksgiving day and, in Grinch-like fashion, defaced a coastal holiday icon:


Sandi, the 700-ton sculpted-of-sand Christmas tree.


>>PHOTOS: Making Sandi, the 700-ton sand Christmas tree, in West Palm


Security cameras captured pictures and video of three vandals committing the holiday mischief in downtown West Palm Beach. That shouldn’t have surprised the vandals, who hopped a gray, 3-foot fence adorned with three signs that read: "No trespassing. Smile for the security cameras."


One person is seen on video scaling Sandi’s elaborately carved side, trimming "branches" as he or she slid down.


Another etched a name into the base of the sculpture: "Brenna."


It looks like a silly teenage prank, said Cindy Gardner, who works at the city’s visitor center at Flagler Park, where Sandi stands tall at 35 feet.


"A lot of people are not happy," Gardner said. "It’s heartbreaking."


Sculptors from Sarasota-based Team Sandtastic only finished the detailed display Wednesday night after a week of work, Gardner said. She watched as they tested the lights that evening and their masterpiece glowed in orange and red.


"It was stunning," Gardner said.


Hours later, the vandals struck.


Teenage prank or not, city police say the damage exceeds $1,000, making the crime a felony. The police department shared pictures and video of the act in hopes that it might lead to a tip.


Dozens visited Flagler Park on Friday morning to snap pictures of the tree.


Lorena Nunez, a three-year West Palm Beach resident, saw the tree Wednesday night, before the mischief.


"It was beautiful, amazing," Nunez said. She returned with a friend Friday after hearing about the incident.


"This is horrible," she said.


Her friend, Debbie Figueroa, a 10-year West Palm Beach resident, saw the tree for the first time Friday. At first, she couldn’t spot the damage.


"Once I got closer, I saw and it’s pretty bad," she said. "It’s beautiful, just so sad that someone would do this."


Carved into the sculpture, crafted from fine sand trucked in from Miami, are Tiki heads, a giant sunscreen bottle, flip flops and a sign that says, "Surf’s Up," this year’s holiday theme.


It’s the ninth year the city has centered its holiday lineup around Sandi. The popular tourist destination has landed West Palm Beach some national attention, including a shoutout on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and a spot on Huffington Post’s list of the top 10 towns that go big for Christmas.


Sandi’s picture appears on the city’s marketing pamphlets for a monthlong, holiday-themed calendar that includes the opening of a glowing nine-hole mini-golf course and a pajama party in the park.


The vandalism happened a week before thousands are expected to descend upon downtown for the annual Sandi tree-lighting.


The synchronized light-and-music show, scheduled for Dec. 5, is the city’s most popular holiday event.


"It’s completely packed every year," Gardner said.


But Sandi, the star attraction, draws visitors long before the tree lighting.


Sylvia Dorisme, who lives in Cape Coral in Southwest Florida, heard about the tree at the tail end of a cruise to the Bahamas from Port of Palm Beach. After returning stateside Friday, she immediately took her 7-year-old son, Sky, to see Sandi.


"I was so excited to see it," said Dorisme. "I can’t believe anyone would ruin it, especially around the holidays."


Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers of Palm Beach County at 800-458-TIPS (8477) or the West Palm Beach Police Department at 561-822-1900.


lramadan@pbpost.com


@luluramadan