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March 22, 2011

Tampered road signs warn of zombies, tanks on SC 160

Two electronic road signs on S.C. 160 near the York-Lancaster county lines were tampered with to say "Zombies Ahead," "Watch for Hunters" and "Be alert for tanks."

Editor's note: This story ran on on March 22.

Caution: Zombies ahead?

Two electronic road signs on S.C. 160 near the York-Lancaster county lines were apparently tampered with sometime before 4 a.m. Sunday, said Lance Cpl. Billy Elder of the Highway Patrol.

One sign read "Zombies Ahead" and rotated to "Watch for Hunters." On the other side of the road, another sign read "Be alert for Tanks."

The electronic signs were put on Highway 160 near the Lancaster County line to alert drivers of a night road paving project scheduled to start March 27, said Ken Wilson, resident construction engineer for the S.C. Department of Transportation in Lancaster County.

Those signs, typically used to alert drivers to road construction or changes in traffic patterns, were turned off Sunday night and are being reprogrammed.

The DOT directed the contractor doing the road work to put up those signs, Wilson said. C R Jackson's Darlington branch is the construction company performing the road work.

"The company is responsible for the message and the maintenance of those signs," he said.

To change the message, someone would need to physically be at the sign.

"It's my understanding that they would need a key to get into the box and a certain code to change the wording," Wilson said.

Jason Johnston, DOT district construction engineer, said they are still unsure how someone changed the message.

"It wasn’t obvious that someone broke into it,” Johnston said. “It’s not our board, so we can’t program. We can’t look at the records to see what happened. And we don't know if it was left unlocked.”

The contractor, CR Jackson, told The Herald's news partner WSOC-TV the company rents the signs.

"This has never happened to us before," said Lee Harrelson, with CR Jackson out of Darlington.

CR Jackson officials said they didn't contact police about the incident but plan to send someone to reprogram the signs and make sure they aren't tampered with again.

Neither Wilson nor Johnston said they've ever seen something like this in the area before. “The message could have been a lot worse than it was,” Wilson said. “In my opinion, it was a prank. They could have put something more sinister; something causing more panic.”

C R Jackson is contracted by the DOT to pave about a half-mile stretch of Highway 160 starting at the York-Lancaster county line.

Wilson said DOT officials will discuss precautions the company can take to avoid a similar occurrence in the future.

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