Clayton County officials investigating recent road sign vandalism

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The southeast corner of Clayton County has seen a rash of sign shootings recently, drawing the attention of local authorities and county engineer Casey Stickfort.

According to Stickfort, 51 signs have been vandalized over the last month and, so far, 12 of the signs have needed to be replaced due to excessive damage and loss of reflectivity.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

 

The southeast corner of Clayton County has seen a rash of sign shootings recently, drawing the attention of local authorities and new county engineer Casey Stickfort. 

 

The growing concern came after a county maintenance staff member initially noticed a sign was punctured full of bullet holes about a month ago. As he continued to drive around the county roads, he noticed another and then another. As the damaged signs kept increasing, it necessitated alerting his foreman and other county officials.

 

According to Stickfort, 51 signs have been vandalized over the last month and, so far, 12 of the signs have needed to be replaced due to excessive damage and loss of reflectivity. 

 

The vandalism aspect, which falls under Iowa Code 321.260—“Interference with devices, signs or signals—unlawful possession—traffic signal preemption devices,” is a simple misdemeanor resulting in a fine of at least $250 but not more than $855 and up to 30 days in jail. While that is considerable enough, there is also a financial burden associated with replacing signs that typically last between 10 and 12 years and as long as 20 years under the right conditions.

 

While sign replacement is normally accounted in the secondary roads budget, none of the vandalized signs were at a point that required replacing, so the unforeseen cost is a drain on that budget. Currently, replacing a sign costs $190 on average, including labor and material. That has gone up since the beginning of the year, as certain materials have increased by 40 percent due to supply chain issues. 

 

So far, Clayton County has spent around $2,300 to replace the damaged signs, money Stickfort argued could have been spent elsewhere on more urgent projects, like concrete patching and maintaining gravel roads. 

 

“It’s costing the taxpayers money,” Stickfort said. 

 

While the economics of the vandalism is a problem, it is so far a manageable one. However, if replacing the signs continues to be necessary, the budget impact becomes worse, something Stickfort wants to avoid. 

 

But beyond the economics, there is a public safety issue as well, especially for tourists, out-of-town travelers or anyone unfamiliar with the roads. When the signs suffer such vandalism, they become visually compromised, opening the door for potential accidents and other incidents. 

 

“If people can’t see the stop sign, due to the reflectivity, they could have an accident. For example, if the sign is shot up and it’s around a corner and if you’re driving at night, you start to approach the sign…it could be damaged to the point you don’t notice it…and it’s my job to protect the traveling public from harm,” Stickfort said. 

 

Another potential safety issue, though less likely but still serious, is a stray bullet striking property or even a person. 

 

While Stickfort speculated the individual(s) who have shot at the road signs were “probably just on a joyride” and believes it is an isolated case, the matter has been turned over to local authorities—namely the Clayton County Sheriffs Office. 

 

Said Sheriff Mike Tschirgi, “We have a couple of people of interest…I can’t comment too much because it is an ongoing investigation, but any information on these types of crimes are always helpful with communication from the public. If you see something, say something.”

 

Stickfort echoed the “if you see something, say something” sentiment, while also stating, “I just don’t want to see anymore signs destroyed.” 

 

Anyone with info regarding the vandalism can contact the Clayton County Sheriffs Office at (563) 245-1234, which is an anonymous tip line.

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