By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The latest effort to combat the theft of road signs in Lafayette County has itself become a victim of theft.
The Board of Supervisors on Monday approved deleting a motion-activated game camera from the county inventory. It was stolen sometime last week after being installed at a site that’s had its stop sign stolen six times in three months.
“I guess they were out there looking for it, because we had it hid pretty good,” said Road Manager Jerry Haynie.
Haynie estimated that people steal about two dozen road signs a month countywide, although the frequency varies with the season.
When road numbers are missing, that’s a problem not only for residents and delivery services, said E-911 Manager Bobby Jones, but for ambulances, law enforcement and fire departments.
“We’ve been very lucky not to have had a (tragedy) because of this,” he said. “But Jerry and his people respond quickly when a sign comes up missing.”
Even more dangerous is the risk of accident posed by a missing stop sign. Where the game camera was stolen, one road tees into another just after rounding a blind curve.
“If you’re coming down that road and don’t know the road, by the time you see (the junction), it’s too late to stop,” Haynie said.
Over the years the efforts on both sides – sign installers and sign stealers – have increased.
“They used to just screw them off and take the signs, but we’ve got them fixed where they can’t screw them off,” Haynie said. “Now they run over them; then they’ll tie a chain to their four-wheel-drives and jerk them out of the ground. We’ve tried graphite grease, spray-on grease, to stop them, and that just made them mad.”
Resale isn’t the motive, he said.
“If anybody comes in (to a recycler) and has a handful of signs, they’re calling us right then,” Haynie said. “Not only that, they’ll hold them right there.”
Some sign thieves target a favorite numerical symbol of the dope-smoking culture, he said.
“The (road number) sign they like most is 420,” Jones said, noting that number has been stolen “50 or 60 times.”
The website www.concept420.com offers several theories as to the number’s connection to marijuana use but finds them inconclusive.
“Simply put, 420 is a symbol of cannabis and its culture,” it states. “Today, April 20th events are international, and 4:20 p.m. has become sort of a worldwide ‘burn time.’”
Oxford’s being a college town may have a tad to do with the ongoing thefts.
“I’m not putting the blame on college students, but every spring when they move out, the university calls us after they go through the dorms,” he said. “We’ll get a pickup load of signs that they have found left in the dorms.”