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Thieves keep stealing County Road 420 signs in Scott County

Thursday, January 22, 2009

ELIZABETH DODD ~ edodd@semissourian.com
From left, Scott County Highway employees Stanley Harris, Sterl Kline, Larry Tucker and Rick Whitworth install a new County Road 420 sign Wednesday morning near Oran, Mo. Theft of the County Road 420 signs has become an issue for Scott County.
The routine disappearance of signs for Scott County Road 420 has exasperated highway administrator Norman Brant.

The number 420 refers to marijuana -- generally believed to be the time of day that, in 1971, a group of students at a San Rafael, Calif., high school met to smoke the drug. The number has since become an international slang term. For example, High Times magazine has established a 420 campaign to legalize marijuana use.

While some people may think stealing road signs is funny, it is anything but to Brant and officials in Scott, Cape Girardeau and Perry counties.

On Wednesday, Brant watched the latest effort to replace Scott County signs in place at three intersections. Over three hours, five workers installed 8-inch steel pipes, each pounded into the ground by a backhoe shovel. The brackets that hold the road signs are welded onto each pipe; the bolts securing the signs are welded as well.

This time, Brant said, he hopes the signs stick around. They could save a life someday, he said.

ELIZABETH DODD ~ edodd@semissourian.com
Remnants of County Road 420 signs remain on a pole at the intersection of County Road 417 in Scott County. Norman Brant, Scott County highway superintendent, estimates 40 signs have been stolen from that one corner.
Brant said a nighttime ambulance call nearly went unanswered because paramedics couldn't find the road without the sign.

"The people in the house could see the ambulance lights in the distance, going back and forth on Route CC," he said. "Finally the driver guessed at a gravel road and he was right."

Brant considered putting up surveillance cameras and motion-sensitive lighting. Once, he had work crews slather cow manure on the poles to discourage thieves.

"That kind of backfired on us because the manure dried up," he said.

Only two signs mark Cape Girardeau's County Road 420 as it rises and dips for three miles from Route B, south of Route KK, all the way to Bollinger County.

Cape Girardeau County highway administrator Scott Bechtold said he "naively thought thieves were after the aluminum signs for recycling" and so ordered replacement signs made of wood. Those disappeared, too.

"They can't help nobody when they're gone," Bechtold said, glancing at the new metal sign, ready to be installed.

Bechtold purchases signs from the Missouri Department of Corrections at $30 each.

Perry County emergency management director Jack Lakenan III, who makes the signs for his county's roads, said 420 signs disappeared frequently until they were mounted in a fashion similar to Scott County's signs.

"We have a bigger problem with the private lane signs," he said. "They get stolen more frequently, especially if they have a family name or Teddy Bear Lane. For a long time that was gone almost every week. This may go on for a month or two, then it quits."

Lakenan blames part of the problem on teen scavenger hunts, which ask for county road signs "or a private lane sign starting with a certain letter or the one with the most letters."

He's heard similar stories of lost ambulances, "especially in regions where you don't get that many calls and the ambulance people aren't that familiar with where they are."

New name complicated

Changing a road name to something less attractive to drug users and pranksters would be complicated, Brant said.

"All deeds and maps would have to be changed, along with Global Positioning System information," he said. "All the property owners would have to be contacted."

Scott County Presiding Commissioner Jamie Burger said the county spends nearly $6,000 every year on replacing signs, but that figure would be much lower if age, weather or accidents were the only reasons for installing new markers.

Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle said stealing a road is a misdemeanor, unless the value of the item taken is more than $500, at which point the crime becomes a felony.

The value of Scott County's three new signs could be as high as $900, the approximate cost of materials and man-hours, Brant said. But all the materials used were scrap from other projects. County workers make the signs, which cost about $10.

"If we'd had to go out and replace it all with new, it would be expensive," Brant said. "But I want to stress the safety. Some of the people living on these roads are property owners and elderly."



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Try this:

Weld a reinforced "frame" - like a picture frame - around the sign; and then weld id to a steel pole.

Then put a Deer-Cam on it. That way, if they do get it off, you'll be able to watch 'em and see who they are.

For extra fun, yuo might want to lay some plywood with tar painted on it out around the sign... ok, maybe not.

-- Posted by OlderEagle1 on Thu, Jan 22, 2009, at 4:18 AM

Some savvy entrepreneur should buy these official signs and sell them in head shops and the internet. They could also sell Chronic Ln, Ganja Ln, etc. Maybe deface them a little bit so they look like authentic stolen property.

-- Posted by hydrox411 on Thu, Jan 22, 2009, at 10:43 AM

Smoke 2 signs in the morning,

Smoke 2 signs at night.

Smoke 2 signs in the afternoon

and it make me feel alright.

Smoke 2 signs in time of peace

and 2 in time of war.

Smoke 2 signs before I smoke 2 signs,

and then I smoke 2 more.

-- Posted by grandma73 on Thu, Jan 22, 2009, at 1:10 PM

While we should appreciate the diligence of the road officials - c'mon...cow manure?!!! Those pot heads probably smoke that stuff, too...!!!

-- Posted by jacksonjazzman on Thu, Jan 22, 2009, at 1:24 PM

One of my relatives had trouble with a testy neighbor who pulled up property line stakes and moved them to where she wanted. He got metal fenceposts and hammered them into the ground and slathered them with grease he used to lube farm equipment. I would have loved to see the neighbor lady's face when she tried to pull those up the first time. That grease is messy, smelly and thick! That could be something to try in Scott County.

-- Posted by gofigure on Thu, Jan 22, 2009, at 2:47 PM

Your problem isn't with pot heads. Your problem is with skin heads. 4/20 is Hitler's birthday. Next time assign a reporter who will do some homework on the friggin issue!

-- Posted by billspal on Thu, Jan 22, 2009, at 3:25 PM

Those signs would make a good platform for rolling doobies.

Just electrify the post... and don't put up any warning signs.

-- Posted by isobar on Thu, Jan 22, 2009, at 4:27 PM

Wheel bearing grease on the pole won't dry out.

-- Posted by Duh... on Thu, Jan 22, 2009, at 4:35 PM


Maybe it's you that should be doing some homework on the issue!


You can always count on Snopes.com

Be sure to read to the bottom. You are correct about Hitler's birthday and, sadly, Columbine was on the same date.

-- Posted by InformedBystander on Thu, Jan 22, 2009, at 5:14 PM


You are incorrect.

-- Posted by grandma73 on Thu, Jan 22, 2009, at 7:07 PM

Just paint the darn number on it and save us some money.

-- Posted by thegreatmosely on Thu, Jan 22, 2009, at 7:57 PM

Three signs, three hours, five workers plus a back hoe and an administrator!! No wonder our economy is in the crapper!!

Did they at least trade off being the designated "watcher"?

-- Posted by malan on Thu, Jan 22, 2009, at 8:15 PM

Officials are complaining about all the time and money this is costing them, yet changing the name of the road is just too much of a hassle.

Good job on answering all the obvious questions in the article - but I thought it was suppose to be the age of common sense. Kids are gonna keep stealing the signs if they say 420!

Thank you.

-- Posted by Chief Broom1 on Thu, Jan 22, 2009, at 9:46 PM

And let me just get this out of the way myself. I meant to write 'supposed.' Stay focused people.

-- Posted by Chief Broom1 on Thu, Jan 22, 2009, at 9:47 PM

It would be brilliant to use a GPS In the ambulance locate the road even if there was no sign. it would serve to speed the arrival to the person needing help, maybe even save a life. CCPA, do you use GPS?

-- Posted by semolover on Fri, Jan 23, 2009, at 12:26 AM

GPS in an ambulance? Thats too much like right to be used around here. The $300 per unit would bankrupt the company or some other dumb excuse.

-- Posted by mynameismud on Fri, Jan 23, 2009, at 4:03 AM

I would have hated being the rookie assigned to slather cow crap on a sign, but I think it's creative....and pretty funny. Signs and posts cost money, but cow crap.....priceless.


-- Posted by ZeRo1 on Fri, Jan 23, 2009, at 9:23 AM

This story was just featured on www.1057thepoint.com!!!

Click on Listen Live.

-- Posted by isobar on Fri, Jan 23, 2009, at 6:16 PM

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