WILLISTON — On Tuesday, Barnwell County coroner Lloyd Ward confirmed everyone’s worst fear: the body that they found in a sewage area was, in fact, that of Darius Brown, a 2006 graduate of Williston-Elko High School.
Now, the fallout has begun.
While everyone – including myself – are rightfully blaming the suspects (only one of whom is in custody as of this posting) still on the run, there is something else that deserves much of the blame for this unfortunate outcome.
Something that is green, rectangular and most definitely non-human.
That something is the street name signs.
As I posted on Facebook 1.25 years ago, the street name signs in Barnwell County are about 5 inches in length (less than half the minimum size that the feds required all signs to be in 2000) – and that is the rectangular blade. More then 95% of the signs are non-retroreflective, and all but 3 signs (yes, THREE) countywide are in all-uppercase lettering – a gross violation of the 2009 Manual Uniform of Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).
And on top of all that, all of the non-retroreflective, all-uppercase street name signs (except for three more they installed late last year, which will be explained later) are way past the end of their lifespans as it has been 14+ years since they were first installed (and I showed my displeasure with the signs when they first went up in late 1997 – that dislike for the county’s signs have only intensified since) and, in 1999, they were exposed to record-breaking 110 degree heat that nearly tied the state record of 111 set in Blackville in the previous century and millennium.
The average life span of regulatory, warning, overhead guide and post-mounted street name signs is 7-12 years. The average life span of post-mounted guide signs (except street name) are a little bit longer, between 10-21 years.
In a bid to avoid installing a mixed case sign, Barnwell County installed three ‘new’ signs — two near IGA and First Baptist Church, and one on LAKE DR (near where Mr. Brown spent his very short life) — as recently as November 30, 2011, seven months AFTER the state of South Carolina adopted the tough new MUTCD. Notice the word new is in air quotes because the signs violate the law and they will have to come down before January 22, 2015 — regardless of its lifespan. All non-retroreflective signs that are in mixed-case can remain posted until they are at the end of their service lives. Like I mentioned in the sixth paragraph, only three signs countywide qualify to remain posted until the end of their service lives, including the only one posted on the 1-mile stretch of HWY 125 in Barnwell County (the rest of SC 125 in Barnwell County is technically in Aiken County, since that stretch is on Savannah River Site’s property).
So, for those in the far right wing mainstream media — like the morons at the New York Daily News and New York Post — who whine and complain about ‘perfectly good street name signs’ being replaced, tough shit. The street name signs are not even close to being perfectly good, because it they were perfectly good, then all street name signs across the nation would be mixed-case right now.
In addition to the suspects who killed Mr. Brown, Barnwell County is also liable because it was their street name signs that HINDERED this search operation. You can’t control Mother Nature (it rained on three days of the search operation), but goddamn it, you CAN CONTROL the street name signs that you install!
I’ve had it up to the gills about the excuses that pundits, politicians and editorialists make about the reasons why street name signs cannot be switched over to the new mixed-case standard. The only reasons why the municipalities won’t switch to mixed-case are: 1) they utterly mismanaged their money in good economic times and didn’t plan for the turmoil we are now just starting to get our way out of, and 2) the federal government utterly wasted money on a wild goose chase in Iraq and, to make matters worse, they LOST $2,000,000,000.00 in Iraq and have never accounted for it!
So, don’t tell me that there is no money to make this life-saving switchover. Although they didn’t HAVE to do it as their much older signs were already in mixed-case, Aiken County made the switchover in October 2010, when the economy was in even worse shape than it is now. There is money to be found and given to municipalities so that they can make this switchover, the federal and state government politicians are simply selfish and lazy and won’t try to help the counties. And the conservative claptrap about street name signs being perfectly good when it is clear with your own two eyes that the signs are NOT isn’t helping matters, either.
While justice for the Brown family may take a long time, we can give them the first step towards the justice that they are looking for and so rightfully deserve right now by giving Barnwell County’s current street name signs the death penalty.