Shocked onlookers watched Monday night as a man took a sledgehammer to a Center City crosswalk celebrating Philadelphia's LGBT community — but it turns out the entire incident was a simple misunderstanding.
Officials said two men first believed to be vandals actually worked for the Philadelphia Water Department and were looking for a possible problem.
The water department said it was investigating a leak nearby at Broad and Locust streets when it fanned out crews to find a possible root of the leak.
That led workers to a rainbow-colored crosswalk at 13th and Locust streets, in what's commonly called the city's Gayborhood.
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"The Water Department was investigating a leak on a water main and as part of the investigation, had to remove a valve box cover to to identify the location," said water department spokesman John DiGiulio.
An onlooker captured cellphone video of the hammering as people walked by.
"There was a man in the middle of the road with a sledgehammer beating the rainbow sidewalks with it, and another man came up behind and began chiseling with him," recalled witness Michael Depiano.
Depiano, believing the men were up to no good, called 911. A police officer arrived moments later, but the men had walked away, leaving minor damage to the brightly colored crosswalk.
Police said no crime appeared to be committed.
"We apologize for any concern this may have caused," said DiGiulio.
DiGiulio sent another statement Tuesday apologizing for the confusion:
"The Water Department recognizes that the work that we performed last night at the intersection of 13th and Locust caused some concern amongst citizens in the area. While the work being performed was not unusual, we apologize for the disturbance and any misunderstanding regarding the nature of our activities. Throughout the year the Water Department actively works to identify sources of leaks, water quality issues, and many other infrastructure concerns for which we are responsible. Quite frequently the optimal time of day to perform this work is in the evening hours.
While the crews last night were simply performing their duties to inspect for a leak that was reported to us, we understand that without a marked vehicle in the immediate vicinity, it was not obvious to the casual observer that we were performing legitimate utility work. The leak, originally reported at Broad and Locust is still being investigated. It is highly likely that PWD crews will return to the area of 13th and Locust, or other nearby locations, as part of our continued efforts to identify the source of the leak. Employees on these crews should be easily identified through Water Department attire."
The city installed the red-, orange-, yellow-, green-, blue- and violet-striped crosswalks over the summer to show tourists that Philadelphia is a LGBTQ-friendly community.
"It will add a little bounce to our steps as we walk the streets in the Gayborhood," Philly Pride Presents executive director Franny Price told Philadelphia Gay News prior to the colorful painting.