Sign thefts stalling responders

EAST FREEDOM – A rash of street-sign thefts worsened over the weekend, leaving more than a dozen corners in southern Blair County unmarked, police from several departments reported Monday.

The thief or thieves have taken signs in Freedom, Greenfield and Huston townships – and likely other municipalities, police said – sometimes ramming signposts to the ground when they can’t rip the metal markers from their poles.

“We just this weekend had some more,” said Freedom Township Police Assistant Chief Terry Dellinger, whose township in recent weeks has lost at least 10 signs to theft.

Signs from Stiffler Lane, Woody Lane and Polecat Road have vanished, among others, Dellinger said. While thefts from amusingly named streets are fairly common, police said, the scale and frequency of the recent spree might point to scrap-metal peddlers.

“I’m sitting here doing a report right now,” Greenfield Township Police Chief Ronald Givler said from his station Monday. “We’ve had a rash of them.”

Greenfield has lost at least three in the past few days, Givler said, including a new sign that township workers had installed on Thursday. Other signs could be missing and not yet noticed, he said.

Just a few missing signs can cost hundreds of dollars to replace, police in affected municipalities said. Dellinger noted that it will likely take at least a month just to order replacements; until they arrive, some street corners will go without markers.

In some cases, the costs go beyond just the missing metal.

“Some of the signs they aren’t able to take off the post, so they’re running over the posts,” Dellinger said.

For the rural areas where the recent sign thefts have taken place, clearly marked roads are a necessity, Martinsburg Police Sgt. Justin Davis said. Three signs recently disappeared from Huston Township, under Martinsburg’s jurisdiction.

“The main problem is for responding officers,” Davis said. Hollidaysburg-based ambulance crews cover much of Morrisons Cove and rely on government-mandated road names to find their way around rural roads, he said.

“A lot of [ambulance workers] don’t spend a lot of time out here; they don’t know the area,” Davis said. “That’s the main concern.”

Police in recent years have had mixed success in catching sign thieves. Roughly a decade ago, Davis said, firefighters responding to a barn fire recovered a collection of stolen signs from as far as Raystown Lake.

But in many cases, municipal authorities can do little more than order replacements.

On Monday, Dellinger said he’s warned scrapyard operators in Blair and Cambria counties to keep an eye open for street signs. The Blair County Crime Solvers, an interdepartmental group that sometimes posts rewards for unsolved cases, has been notified, he said.

A representative at Charles Caracciolo Steel and Metal Yard along Sixth Avenue said he

hasn’t seen any signs nor received a police notice, as of Monday afternoon.

Dellinger said signs have recently been stolen in Juniata, Taylor and North Woodbury townships, as well, though police in those areas did not return calls seeking comment.

While the latest spate of thefts has been particularly serious, sign disappearances have been a near-constant problem, Dellinger said, particularly since 911 rules mandated road markings in rural areas.

“Back when they first went up, everybody was collecting the signs,” he said. “There’s been arrests every year.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.