Listen to this article

URBANA — A University of Illinois softball player accused of vandalizing a religious symbol on campus was charged Tuesday with a felony.

Ruby Fernandez-Rivera, 21, who listed an address on Daniel Street in Champaign, was arraigned on a single count of criminal damage to property for allegedly breaking a piece off the menorah at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life on Feb. 7.

According to a UI police report, Fernandez-Rivera and another student were captured on video approaching the menorah outside the center, 509 S. Fourth St., about 1:15 a.m. that Sunday.

She reportedly reached up to unscrew light bulbs on the menorah and in the process, the piece fell to the ground. She and her male friend, who was not charged, then ran away.

The report said the friend with her told officers who she was and admitted that both of them were drunk at the time of the incident.

Fernandez-Rivera went to the police department later for questioning and admitted breaking the menorah branch.

The junior from California was suspended indefinitely from the softball team in the wake of her identification earlier this month as the alleged vandal. On Feb. 16, she sent a letter to The News-Gazette accepting responsibility for the damage and apologizing for her actions, which she said "happened in correlation with a night out."

"There was at no point any disrespect or malice meant towards any community or religion," she wrote.

Fernandez-Rivera asked for the appointment of a public defender.

Judge John Kennedy read her the charge and told her to be back in court April 12. She remains free on her own recognizance.

UI Sports Information Director Kent Brown said Tuesday afternoon there is no change in Fernandez-Rivera's status on the softball team.

Illinois interim athletic director Paul Kowalczyk indefinitely suspended her from the team on Feb. 9, and she has not played in any of the team's first nine games.

If convicted, Fernandez-Rivera faces penalties ranging from probation to one to three years in prison.

Another college student who admitted he vandalized the same menorah back in August is due back in court Thursday.

Max Kristy, 20, a Parkland College student, is expected to plead guilty to misdemeanor criminal damage to property for a year of court supervision.

In November, he was accepted into the "second chance" diversion program which allows him to escape a conviction on his record in return for doing public service, making an apology and paying restitution of $1,792.

Kristy has already paid the $1,792 but the menorah was not replaced.

The charge against Fernandez-Rivera reads that the damage she allegedly caused did not exceed $300.

State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said the felony criminal damage to property charge is based on the fact that the damage happened at a house of worship and not on the amount of the damage.

Rietz noted that Fernandez-Rivera is eligible for the same diversion program in which Kristy has participated.

 

Reporter

Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).