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Sheriff takes steps to stop Amish sign thefts

ESCANABA TOWNSHIP — A total of four Amish alert signs were stolen off county roads in September. Since then, the Delta County Road Commission has replaced the signs and the Delta County Sheriff’s Office has been working to deter others from stealing the signs again.

“We did put a remote camera on at least one,” Sheriff Ed Oswald said.

He explained the case involving the thefts is still open and the sheriff’s office will continue to take this matter seriously.

“We don’t want people taking down warning signs,” Oswald said. “We made it through hunting season with no accidents. I was quite concerned with that — people in the area not knowing that there would be buggies on the roadway.”

This summer, Amish families moved into the Delta County area. Because of this, the Delta County Road Commission put up Amish alert signs to caution motorists using the roads.

Amish alert signs are important because they signal to motorists to be aware Amish may occupy the shoulder of the road in horse-drawn buggies.

Jody Norman, the manager of the Delta County Road Commission, said there were six total signs put out to make motorists aware and share the roadway.

The signs are located on county roads in the Escanaba Township and Cornell Township area.

Of the six signs placed, four signs were stolen.

The first two signs stolen were reported to the sheriff’s office on Sept. 9 and then two more were reported stolen on Sept. 21. As the signs are secured onto posts, both the signs and posts were ripped out of 3-foot deep concrete.

Replacing the Amish alert signs is not an easy task as they’re specialty signs.

“We’ve had to replace all of them,” Norman said.

Oswald had hoped people would return the signs once they realized how extremely important they are for the safety of the Amish community, but none were.

“We have not had any returned,” he said.

Oswald said his concern regarding the thefts were rooted in the fact the Amish community in Delta County are so new, having just moved in this summer.

“So the warning signs are letting people know that Amish are in the area,” he said. “Once they’re established people generally know they’re here. That’s why I was especially concerned around hunting season with all the traffic on (County Road) 426 due to hunting and the people not knowing they’d be running across buggies on one of those corners.”

He noted when he had talked to the Amish community earlier in the summer, they had wanted more signs placed for safety because accidents involving horse-drawn buggies do occur and are usually serious accidents.

This summer there were two fatal motor vehicle-buggy crashes in Michigan that claimed multiple lives.

One crashed occurred in June in Branch County, where three young siblings died after a pickup truck struck a buggy carrying seven members of a family.

The more recent case of a fatal crash occurred within the time the signs here in Delta County were being stolen.

On Sept. 18, four Amish siblings were in a buggy traveling home from an Amish school in Eaton County when a vehicle struck them from behind. The four children were ages 6 to 13. Three died, and the six-year-old was critically injured.

Oswald said with winter weather here, there is still a concern of accidents.

“Now we’re running across winter time,” he said. “They can’t get as far off the road due to snowbanks.”

People need to be cautious and attentive while driving in Delta County not only where the Amish community lives but everywhere as they travel to Gladstone and Escanaba for shopping needs, Oswald said.

“You don’t know where they’ll be traveling — we can’t put signs throughout the entire county,” he said.

According to Oswald, the sheriff’s office and the road commission have a great working relationship.

The road commission is currently working on a roadway safety grant to widen the shoulders of the roads for buggies and other slow moving off-road vehicles.

Oswald said he wrote a letter in support of the necessity of the grant in Delta County for the road commission.

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