BUHL, Idaho – Twin Falls County law enforcement officers and Buhl Highway District officials are trying to snuff out a ticking time bomb on rural roads.
If it’s someone’s idea of a prank, highway district Director Ted Beuss fails to see the humor of it.
Someone is stealing stop signs in the Buhl countryside.
“Monday, I came up missing 10 signs,” Beuss said.
Multiple stop signs – often around a dozen at a time – have gone missing in four separate incidents over the past 12 months.
“It’s a very serious matter,” Beuss said, especially for drivers who aren’t familiar with the rural intersections.
Missing stop signs set up the potential for someone to be seriously injured or killed in a crash due to a motorist not stopping, he said.
Some 50 stop signs have been stolen .
The thefts aren’t easy on the highway district’s pocketbook either, so far taking a $9,000 bite out of the taxpayer-funded budget.
When signs disappear, law enforcement officers and motorists bring Beuss the bad news and crews go out with replacements – even though the highway district doesn’t keep an endless supply of stop signs in its back room.
Supplies are sometimes tight, and sometimes bent. Damaged signs have been used in a pinch.
When replacing the missing signs, Beuss said, “we go as quick as we can and hope for the best.”
Sometimes crews are out at 2 a.m. installing new signs.
Beuss said he suspects it’s the same people doing it over and over.
Thieves used to take the post along with the sign. Now they’ve figured out a way to remove just the sign, he said.
It’s typical for the thieves to go down miles of a single rural road, taking every stop sign they can.
Signs have occasionally been stolen in years past, but Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ken Mencl said he’s never seen it on a scale such as this.
For law enforcement’s part, school resource officers have been notified, in case the culprits are school age.
It’s possible the thieves are reselling the signs and Mencl has a warning for people who purchase traffic signs too: They could be charged with a crime if they are buying items they have a reason to believe are stolen.
As for the people committing the thefts, Mencl said they face a felony charge due to the value of the signs. Plus, it’s possible they could be charged with manslaughter if a fatal crash occurred at an intersection in which a stop sign had been stolen.
Mencl said he hasn’t heard of those type of charges being leveled in southern Idaho but, in 1997, three people were sentenced to 15 years in a Florida prison after knocking down a stop sign where a fatal crash later occurred.
Hours after the Florida stop sign was removed, three teenagers were killed when their Camaro went through the intersection and was smashed by an 8-ton truck, news sources say.
Beuss and Mencl hope it doesn’t come to that.
“I just hope it stops,” Beuss said.
Mencl encourages anyone with information regarding the stolen signs to call law enforcement. A news tip that leads to the arrest of those responsible might lead to a cash reward through Crime Stoppers.