Local News

Cary Man's Campaign To Remove Signs Lands Him In Trouble With Law

Posted October 31, 2002 10:03 a.m. EST

— During campaign season, it is not unusual to see political signs dotting the landscape. Lee Swearingen is not running for office, but he is campaigning to have all illegal signs removed from roads.

"I view this as litter," he said. "I pick up more signs in a week than I've seen the DOT (Department of Transportation) pick up in a month."

Swearingen is not bashful about admitting that he has removed hundreds of political signs from local highways since July. After he removes them, he destroys them.

"I knew these signs were illegal. I believe as a citizen, I had a right to go out there and assist the state in their removal," he said.

Swearingen's campaign has finally gotten attention -- the wrong kind of attention. The Wake County Sheriff's Office has charged Swearingen with stealing 125 real estate signs.

"Signs can be a nuisance, but some have their place," said Maj. Thomas Matthews, of the Wake County Sheriff's Office. "He was kind of boastful that he has nothing better to do than going around the county picking up signs. It doesn't matter what kind they are."

"I'd cop to anything that I did, but I'll be damned if I'm going to cop to something I didn't do. I didn't steal this man's 125 signs," Swearingen said.

The Department of Transportation recognizes that some of the signs on roadways are illegal, but they claim they do not have the manpower and time to remove them all. When the state does remove signs, it is because they have become a hazard, for example, blocking traffic views at an intersection. They store the signs and contact the owners to pick them up.

Swearingen is scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 20.