Thieves in Appalachia covet road markers

Sunday, December 16, 2001

WHITESBURG, Ky. -- Driving around in eastern Kentucky, good luck finding Fat Baby Hollow, Frog Town, Rattlesnake Ridge or Death Valley.

Authorities say vandals have been taking markers from more colorfully named places, making it difficult for police and paramedics to find some out-of-the-way spots.

Kentucky State Police have launched a crackdown on the thefts, charging seven teens in Letcher County in the past three weeks with stealing more than 100 signs.

Officials said they will post hidden cameras around some of the most popular markers.

"Mostly, it's young people and they do it just out of vandalism," said Letcher County Judge-Executive Carroll Smith. "They don't understand the seriousness of stealing road signs. Fire departments, police departments and ambulance drivers depend on those signs to get to emergencies quickly."

Road markers, which cost about $60 each, are relatively new in much of eastern Kentucky. The region had thousands of unnamed roads and lanes before county governments began instituting 911 service over the past two decades.

Now, nearly all the gravel routes in the mountains have names, many selected by the residents who live there. Some reflect the leanings of University of Kentucky sports fans, such as Wildcat Boulevard; others altitude, like Ozone Road on top of Cowan Mountain.

Orell Fields, director of the Letcher County emergency dispatching center, said roads named after explosives also are popular among thieves. Among the pile of recovered markers cluttering his office Monday: Powder Keg Road and Pistol City.

Fields said he has had to replace the sign for Fat Baby Hollow -- named after a resident's dog -- at least three times.

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