Sign thief writes apology, pays up

The letter arrived at the Warren County Administrator’s office on Tuesday, one day after the the writer pleaded guilty in Circuit Court to stealing 34 road signs.

Tristan Warren Stone, 19, of 266 Grove Farm Road, Front Royal, apologized in the letter to the county’s residents. He has also written a check to Warren County – $6,369.56 for the cost of replacing the signs.

“What I thought was just a youthful and harmless prank turned into a nightmare for not only myself but my family as well,” Stone wrote, adding that his actions shocked members of his “good, law-abiding family.”

County officials said theft of road signs is a chronic problem. Those bearing the names of a thief’s girlfriend and family connections are among the signs most likely to end up gracing the wall of someone’s living room. Signs with distinctive names such as Whiskey Still and Poor House are also common targets.

Thefts are usually no more than one or two signs. Assistant County Attorney Dan Whitten said Stone’s case was an exception.

“This is pretty unusual where so many signs were taken at one time by one person,” Whitten said.

Stone’s letter and restitution were part of the plea agreement he reached with the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office. The agreement also requires him to perform 100 hours of community service installing signs with a county road crew. If he completes his community service and commits no more offenses in the next year, the felony charge of receiving stolen property will be reduced to a misdemeanor, and he will receive a suspended jail sentence.

The restitution paid by Stone represents the $187.34 it costs the county in materials, labor and vehicle travel to replace each stolen road sign.

County Administrator Douglas Stanley said the county paid $18,578 for road sign replacement in the 2012 fiscal year, $12,008 in fiscal year 2013 and $18,214 in 2014. The costs do not include staff time.

Stanley said road sign thefts can create trouble for fire and ambulance crews trying to locate remote addresses in the middle of the night.

“It may be done with innocent intentions, but it can certainly impact our ability to provide adequate fire and rescue service,” Stanley said of sign thefts.

Stone said in his letter of apology that his stint with the road crew will allow him to “see firsthand how much work and time my actions have caused county employees.”

He added: “It’s very easy to use the excuse that I am just a kid, but we all must learn that we are responsible for our own actions, and my actions in being involved in this case were most definitely not something I am proud of. It is my goal to move forward and learn a very valuable life lesson from this experience, and become an adult who respects the property of others and, most importantly, respects the citizens of Warren County.”

Stanley and Richard Traczyk, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said they were pleased that Stone had admitted his guilt and accepted responsibility for the thefts.

“Looking back to the days of my youth, I think we all did something stupid without much consideration of the cost and the consequences and the impact to others,” Traczyk said in a written statement. “I am sure Tristan learned from his experience as life is full of choices.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com