Vandalism can destroy lives, not just government property

Now looking like a boat, the covered wagon at the visitor's kiosk on Highway 26 east of Prairie City now rests on a cement slab after vandals ripped the wheels off sometime during the late evening hours of March 23 and early morning on March 24. Prairie City Police Chief Dave Welch said the incident is under investigation, but no arrests have been made. The Eagle/TIM ADAMS

Last month, 22 traffic signs, including eight stop signs were vandalized along the Baker-Austin Highway (Oregon Highway 7), the John Day Highway (Highway 26), and several forest roads between Sumpter Junction and Prairie City. Vandals knocked down eight stop signs, a stop-ahead flashing beacon sign and 13 other traffic control signs along a 30-mile stretch of highway, from mile point 19.5 on Highway 7 to milepoint 181 on Highway 26. The vandals also damaged the covered wagon information kiosk along Highway 26 at mile point 181.

Destroying or removing signs may seem like a victimless crime, but vandalism is a serious and sometimes deadly matter. One of the stop signs removed was at Austin Junction, where Highway 7 and Highway 26 meet. The flashing stop-ahead sign was also destroyed, making this an incredibly dangerous intersection. Thankfully, no crashes were reported and the critical signs were replaced as soon as the damage was discovered. However, there was a period of time when a serious crash was a real possibility. The person or persons responsible need to understand that people can and do die because of this type of senseless crime.

A similar incident in Tampa, Fla., in 1996 resulted in the deaths of three teenagers when their car ran through an intersection and crashed into a truck. The driver of the car failed to stop because the sign controlling traffic at the intersection had been knocked down and was lying by the side of the road. As a prank, three young adults had vandalized several signs the night before, including a stop sign. Not only were the three lives lost, with their families left to cope with the tragedy, but the three vandals were later convicted of manslaughter and each sentenced to 15 years in prison.

As we approach summer holidays and vacations, please help prevent this kind of tragedy by letting others know that sign vandalism is not a victimless crime, but can easily results in serious injury, or death.

Even when no incident occurs, sign vandalism costs Oregon taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in replacement costs. This recent incident will cost taxpayer about $2,500 for highway sign replacement work, plus additional costs for repair of the covered wagon kiosk and replacement of forest road signs. In 1999, an estimated $500,000 was spent by ODOT to produce new signs to replace those that had been vandalized. This doesn't include labor costs to perform the replacement and clean up activities. This is all money that could have been spent on other resources needed to maintain our bridges and highways.

Local law enforcement agencies and ODOT encourage you to call 9-1-1 to report missing road signs, or if you see someone vandalizing or removing a sign. Your help could save others from a needless tragedy.

Tom Strandberg is the Oregon Department of Transportation Region 5 (Eastern Oregon) public information officer.

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