JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Officials with the Craighead County Highway Department Tuesday told Region 8 News it discovered approximately 50 road signs in a ditch off Craighead County Road 425 Monday afternoon. According to L.M. Duncan, Craighead County Road Superintendent, the signs were worth an estimated $400. Several signs belonged to the City of Jonesboro, Duncan said.
"We've already replaced a bunch of them because we didn't realize what happened to them. Always people are getting them and kids take them and put them in their bedrooms and things like that. We've replaced a bunch of them already," said Duncan.
Duncan said street signs cost the county six dollars. Stop signs cost the county roughly $18.
"I guess we didn't realize it was this big of a problem until we saw the signs in there. We just get a call on one or two there, and we go replace them and we don't think that much about them. This is quite a few," said Duncan.
Craighead County Judge Dale Haas said theft of road signs is a senseless crime.
"Common sense needs to apply. That's real stupid. Somebody is going to mess around and run a stop sign some of these people have stolen, or it could be a sharp curve in the road sign and either some individual or family is going to mess around getting killed out of this act of vandalism," said Haas. "A lot of them were 911 signs. If an ambulance had a call and couldn't respond to your house and somebody died because you took that sign, then you would be responsible somewhat for their death."
Haas recalled an incident in Brookland three weeks ago. According to Haas, a man driving down a road crashed his truck in a wooded area. He drove down the road frequently and was used to seeing a stop sign. He ran past the post where the sign was stolen on a foggy day.
"To remove that sign removes that awareness that there could be a curve up ahead or this is what the speed limit is or be prepared to stop or yield. The signs are there for a purpose," said Haas. "Especially if somebody gets killed, they can be charged with numerous crimes. I would think from a negligent homicide to manslaughter. It'd be dependent on the prosecutor."
Haas and Duncan mentioned the difficulty for emergency response personnel who depend on road signs for direction. Several ambulances have GPS capabilities. Shawn Perrin, Education Director for Medic One Ambulance Service, said his fleet of vehicles have GPS, but said GPS isn't foolproof.
"We have certain technology that others may not have and we shouldn't have to depend on that. That's a luxury given to us if you can afford that, but we depend on road signs and house numbers being visible where we could find them," said Perrin. "Our emergency response vehicles, ambulance, police and fire all included really depend heavily on these road signs to be there. We have all kinds of technology to find homes and residences and streets, but we rely on signs, especially at night, when we're trying to find someone."
"We depend on these signs to be there to help save lives and get there in a timely manner. These road signs missing, I'm afraid, are going to cost somebody a life," said Perrin. "I was shocked to find that there had been that many road signs that had been stolen, especially when we're talking about road signs that have numbers on them. What someone doesn't realize is that they could cost somebody a life."
Duncan and Haas told Region 8 News they believe the perpetrator is a teenager of a group of juveniles looking for laughs.
"They don't realize, I don't think, how serious it could be. It's just kind of a prank for them to do. I'm sure they did them all in one night because it looks like they were all put there the same night," said Duncan.
"They're not thinking about themselves or anybody else. They're not thinking about the consequences of their actions. The consequences of their actions could not only be the loss of life or someone seriously injured, it would also be the loss of their freedom. They need to stop and think about this," said Haas. "Growing up sometimes, you do stupid things without thinking. Most young people don't think about the consequences or the seriousness of this nature."
According to Craighead County Sheriff Jack McCann, the penalties vary for stealing road signs.
"If it's just a road sign, it'd be a misdemeanor theft of property. It'd be a fine and the possibility of some jail time," said McCann. "It could be a felony depending on your past history. Either some lengthy jail time or possibly prison."
"You could be civilly responsible for it. There could be a lawsuit where you could be responsible to cover the cost of the injuries and damage to the vehicles," said McCann.
"If they catch a violator, they'll be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," said Haas. "Somebody could prosecute it and it's real serious. You're talking about injuring someone to a point of taking their life. The road signs are there for protection, and for people to steal them, that's foolish."
If you have any information that may lead to an arrest, call Crimestoppers at 935-STOP.