Prank was tall order for graffiti vandals

Worker removes graffiti from an overhead sign seen from Highway 17 North on the Crosstown Friday.

A state road crew applied "Graffiti Gone, Jelled Vandalism Remover" on Friday to the work of hooligans who painted 7-foot-tall white letters and black scribble on Crosstown Expressway signs for Interstate 26 and U.S. Highway 17.

"It's amazing they got that kind of time on their hands. I'm still wondering how they got up there," said a state Department of Transportation supervisor who declined to give his name because he was not authorized to talk to the press. A bucket truck hoisted a worker 40 feet up to the signs perched over the roadway.

Vandals shimmied up the sign supports and apparently worked so fast that no one saw them. The result was the giant, fancy-script letters "RT" on the 10-foot-tall by 20-foot-wide sign for Mount Pleasant and Georgetown. "GM" in similar-style letters rose as tall as an NBA center on a similarly sized sign pointing the way to North Charleston and Columbia.

The bigger-than-life defacement of public property was discovered Wednesday morning, so it's thought the criminals struck sometime the night before. Police spokesman Charles Francis said no one reported seeing the graffiti attack. Anyone with knowledge of the incident should call police at 577-7434, Francis said.

Tom Read of Read Brothers on King Street found white scrawl on his building that he reported to police. The graffiti, still visible Friday, stretched some 8 feet wide and 4 feet tall. The largest part of it looked like a giant tadpole. Multicolor graffiti was visible on an adjacent building.

"Sometimes it shows real imagination and talent, while at the same time they are defacing property. If they were to use that talent for painting, nobody would object," Read said.

At other nearby locations on King Street going toward Calhoun Street, graffiti was visible on a large real estate sign hanging at an empty fashion store and on electric meters, mailboxes and trash receptacles where "ASK" and "BAR" were painted in some places.

On James Island, a graffiti artist using a swirl of white paint struck the Wal-Mart sign on Folly Road on Thursday. Spray-paint scribblers left their mark at Summerville's Heritage Square last fall.

Charleston has a Graffiti Hotline at 958-1500, which is backed up by police officers armed with a pressure washer and biodegradable paint-removing spray. Mayor Joe Riley has vowed to remove every piece of graffiti the vandals place in the community.

City officials say graffiti lowers property values, discourages shoppers and scares away tourists. As part of its campaign, Charleston toughened the penalty for graffiti. Ordinances now distinguish graffiti from simple vandalism, raising the fine from $451 to $1,087.

On the Crosstown Friday, the DOT supervisor pondered what vandals did to the giant road signs. "We're always cleaning signs. It's not usually up in the air like this. They need to get themselves a job in a tattoo shop," he said.