Friday, September 22, 2006

Sign thief

Drivers who need road signs to navigate could find themselves disoriented on Interstate 20 east of Birmingham for several weeks. A Pell City man was charged Thursday in connection with the theft of 17 signs from along I-20, valued at $85,000.

Alabama Department of Transportation officials said some of the traffic signs were as large as 10 feet by 15 feet and included markers for the Chula Vista and Brompton exits.

Kenneth Scott Ferguson, 36, remained in the St. Clair County Jail with no bond set late Thursday. The Alabama Bureau of Investigation charged him with a first-degree count of receiving stolen property, said state trooper spokesman Sgt. Tim Sartain.

The signs were sold for scrap at a Moody salvage yard, officials said. Gary Smith, DOT district engineer for St. Clair and Blount counties, estimates the aluminum scrap from the signs was worth about $2,500.

The signs, in all shapes and sizes, were taken during the past two months, Smith said, and it will be December before replacement signs are installed.

DOT officials say road signs sometimes are stolen for souvenirs. Signs have not been the only target for thieves along area interstates. Guard rail, made of steel, is also a prime candidate, said DOT District Engineer Charles Malone.

The thefts usually happen when contractors are replacing the guard rail and they leave the old rail overnight, expecting to pick it up the following day. Malone said Birmingham police recently saw someone loading up rail and arrested the man for theft.

Scrap metals such as aluminum, brass and copper are hot items for thieves. A rise in the price and demand for metals is fueling a surge in thefts, law enforcement officials said.

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