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He Created A (Barrel) Monster ... And May Go To Jail

One man's vandalism is another man's art. At least, that seems to sum up the situation in Raleigh, N.C., where college student Joseph Carnevale created a 10-foot roadside monster out of stolen orange-and-white safety barrels.

As monsters go, Carnevale's was rather friendly-looking. A jagged smile was carved into the barrel that served as a cone-shaped head. He leaned in toward the road and, with one orange-and-white arm raised, he appeared to be hitching a ride.

But the police weren't laughing: They arrested Carnevale and took apart the barrel monster. In response, hundreds of people wrote to the city to say they kind of liked the monster, and they've lobbied for the charges against Carnevale to be dropped.

Carnevale, a student at North Carolina State University, tells NPR's Michele Norris that he has an initial hearing set for July 21 on misdemeanor charges of larceny and injury to personal property.

But his situation is tricky. Carnevale was already on probation for the alcohol-related theft of a motorboat about 2 1/2 years ago, and he could face six months in jail for violating it.

"It wasn't really a big deal," Carnevale says of his previous offense. "I had been kayaking around on this lake and was very intoxicated and decided I didn't want to paddle anymore. So I hopped in a boat that had the keys in it and drove around for a little while, and then put it back in the dock that was not the dock I had found it at."

When it comes to the barrel monster, Carnevale says he didn't realize how expensive the barrels he used were to the company — each one, he says, costs $120. Even so, Carnevale says the company officials he spoke with weren't interested in pursuing charges.

"They'd like the sculpture back from the police department to use for advertising purposes," he says.

Despite his debacle, Carnevale says he did get some laughs out of people's reactions in the few hours after he built the barrel monster.

"After I went home and changed — so I didn't look like the same guy who had put the barrel up — I came back and sat in my car," he says. "And it was funny. People were stopping in traffic, taking pictures with their cell phones and their cameras. And people were running up the sidewalk and posing in front of it. It was pretty funny in the few hours that it actually stayed up."

As for the barrel monster's thumb, Carnevale says he had to think about what to do with the hand after most of the monster was finished.

"I was on the brink between thumbs out or middle finger out," he says. "And I decided thumbs out would probably offend less people, so I went with the thumb."

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