Sign thefts, 'mudding' troubling Precinct 2
More than $1,200 worth of road markers taken in past month alone

Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

March 24, 2004 -- The southeastern portion of Hopkins County continues to be plagued with troubles, only this time caused by people, not nature.

Over the last month, $1,239 worth of signs have been stolen, several incidents of dead animal dumping reported, and considerable road damage caused by four-wheel drive vehicles used for "mudding," according to Hopkins County Commisioner Burke Bullock.

The missing signs -- 12 county road signs, three stop signs and six "no mudding" signs -- not only pose a monetary loss for the county, but their absence presents safety issues for motorists, liability issues for the county and criminal issues for those responsible.

"Say the sign, a stop sign, has been there several months and all of a sudden it's gone," Bullock said. "People can get hurt. Those three stop signs gone could cause a wreck or worse; I'm afraid somebody's gonna be seriously injured or get killed."

Some signs were replaced a few months back but already have been removed. Motorists should note that until new stop signs can be put up in East Caney, Rocky Ridge and Reilly Springs, caution should be exhibited when approaching those intersections as other drivers who are unaware of the missing signs may go through the designated stop areas instead of pausing.

About a dozen signs designating county roads have also been stolen, which could pose a hindrance to law enforcement and emergency responders called to locations along roads where the signs are missing.

"If there's an emergency and ambulance is sent to a residence on roads where the signs are not there, they may not know how to get to the residence and will have to spend time looking. It's a pretty big deal, and I'm hoping that by informing the public, the people doing this will stop," Bullock said. "I'm not accusing anyone, I just want it to stop."

Another type of sign stolen in recent weeks has been the "no mudding" signs on county roads.

Anyone caught taking the signs or in possession of the stolen property faces criminal theft charges. Each mudding sign costs $69 to replace, while stop signs cost the county $75 each and road markers are $50 each.

That means that anyone caught with even one of the stolen signs faces Class B misdemeanor theft charges, which carry a punishment of up to $2,000 in fines and/or up to 180 days in jail.

Another problem troubling the Precinct 2 commissioner is people in four-wheel drive vehicles who deliberately travel on muddy roadways, ditches and property, causing significant damage from "mudding."

"They find a muddy road and go through it," Bullock said. "When they're done it's impassable, making it so other vehicles cannot go through there. This seems to be a worse problem in the warmer months and during the summer."

Anyone caught "mudding" on county roads, ditches or public or private property not their own faces criminal mischief charges, depending on the severity of damage to the property or road. This does not mean people using their vehicle to travel the road to get to their residence, but rather those intent in playing in and sloshing through the mud knowing it will cause damage, according to Hopkins County Chief Sheriff's Inv. Jim Wright.

According to the Texas Penal Code, mudding becomes criminal mischief when someone "intentionally or knowingly damages or destroys tangible property" belonging to someone else. The punishment for criminal mischief is comparable to the monetary damage assessed for theft.

A third problem Bullock said that has been brought to his attention is dead animal carcasses thrown on the side of the road or into creeks.

"We have a problem with dumping of dead calf carcasses and animal carcasses," Bullock said. "They are dumping these on a regular basis. They should know that they can be fined for that. Maybe if they see that, it'll stop the problem."

According to Chapter 7 of Texas Water Code, dumping the bodies of dead animals into bodies of water such as creeks and ponds can result in fines up to $500,000 and felony charges calling for jail time.

The punishment for dumping of dead animals on land depends on the weight of the dumped carcasses, and can also result in fines and/or jail time, depending on the circumstances surrounding each offense.

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