Missing stop signs create risk

By Dave Gomez

A rash of stop sign thefts have plagued DeKalb County recently, creating potentially hazardous conditions for drivers.

The thefts prompted the DeKalb County Highway Department to notify NIU officials of the problem.

“The reason we’d like to bring it to students’ attention at this time is [that] we know that students move road signs and barrier signs,” said Michelle Emmett, associate vice provost for NIU Student Affairs.

Students, unaware that even one missing sign could result in a serious accident, often take the signs as decoration for their rooms, Emmett said.

The thefts have occurred mainly in the northern part of DeKalb County, said Wayne Davey, support services manager for the DeKalb County Highway Department.

Between 15 and 20 signs have been stolen since the beginning of the semester, Davey said. Each sign costs about $150 to replace.

“Sometimes they just cut the whole post down or just rip [the signs] off,” Davey said.

A 24-hour crew is on call to replace the stolen signs, Davey said.

Davey said pinpointing suspects has been difficult.

“The majority of the citizens and students are law-abiding,” Davey said.

Davey said he was not aware of any accidents, but adding removed stop signs can create a potentially dangerous situation for drivers unaware of the change.

The highway department has provided DeKalb County high schools with a video on sign theft, entitled “Danger Signs.”

“We’re hoping to get that education out, that it’s more than a harmless prank,” Davey said.

Student Affairs will have a resource center available for people who wish to see the video, Emmett said.

“We want to educate people on the ramifications – including death.”

NIU organizations including the Student Association, student government groups, and Greek councils have also been asked to be on the lookout for stolen signs, Emmett said.

Sign theft is a problem on occasion, more often with street signs than stop signs, said DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen.

“The people stealing these stop signs need to realize they’re placing people’s lives at risk,” Feithen said.

Stop sign theft and damage are both class A misdemeanors. Each is punishable by a maximum fine of $2,500 and up to one year in jail. Possession of a stop sign can result in a $1,000 fine.

In 1997, three Tampa, Florida men were convicted of manslaughter after stealing a stop sign at an intersection hours before a crash killed three people.

Dian Twarogal Photo illustration