An Alabama man is in police custody, accused of stealing dozens of signs from two states. The signs removed from interstates, county road and historical sites.
Law officers say the suspect is stealing from taxpayers, and historians say the theft of historical markers is robbing all of us of history.
Weston Fitzgerald was arrested in Limestone County, Alabama, on Tuesday.
The 40-year-old man is charged with theft after investigators found over 40 signs at his Ardmore, Ala., home.
Law officers seized stop signs, street signs, highway signs and heavy historical markers from both Alabama and Tennessee.
Lt. Shane Hunter of the Giles County Sheriff’s Dept. says stealing stop signs is dangerous.
“That’d be a traffic hazard at the intersection when the stop sign is removed, and oncoming traffic unaware of the flow of traffic,” Hunter explained.
Hunter says the investigation shows that Fitzgerald was allegedly stealing the signs for his collection, not for financial profit.
“He was a collector, and he was going to keep these at his residence,” Hunter said.
According to investigators, some of the signs are very expensive. The historical markers alone are valued at close to $3,000.
TDOT officials tell news 2, including labor and materials, it costs taxpayers $425 to replace just one highway sign that welcomes motorists into Tennessee.
Authorities tell News 2, Fitzgerald stole several historical markers, including one that had been at Exit 1 on the border of Giles County and Alabama for years.
Bobby Wynn, treasurer of the Giles County Historical Society, tells news 2, this particular marker was unique because it had historical relevance on both sides of the sign.
“The first thing is, they teach history,” Wynn said. “As they ride by and have no idea of a certain event that occurred or a person that was born and raised in this location or some other historic event.”
Wynn adds, “He has offended both Alabama and Tennessee by taking this sign. I don’t know why anyone would think they could get away with this.”
He is surprised anyone would steal such recognizable signs.
“I am surprised because those things are so recognizable, and most anyone would see it and know that anyone who has it is not supposed to have it,” Wynn said.
According to Wynn, stealing these roadside markers deprives everyone of history.
“I think it tends to make history relevant. You hear about a historical event, and it may not mean much to you,” he said. “But if you are standing on the site of a Civil War battle and you know right under you men died, it just makes it relevant and keeps history alive.”
Wynn said the historical markers are expensive — close to $3,000 each. The state is responsible for replacing them, and he says that it can take many months, even years, for it to happen.
“I don’t know if he thought he could sell it to someone for a few dollars, or keep it in his own collection,” Wynn said. “But like you say, if he was gonna have it hidden out and kept it in his own basement and sneak down and look at it every now and then, I don’t see what kind of enjoyment because someone is going to see it and know it doesn’t belong there.”
Fitzgerald is out of jail on bond in Alabama.
Authorities say there are confirmed Tennessee cases in Lincoln County as well as Giles County.