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County won't prosecute illegal sign-poster

Photo Credit: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: NANCY TOWNSLEY - Michael Medill of Gaston faced a county citation for posting his homemade warning signs Saturday, Sept. 6, at a popular Hagg Lake swimming spot.Washington County officials have decided not to prosecute Gaston resident Michael Medill for putting up unauthorized warning signs near a site at Hagg Lake where a Hillsboro family of four drowned last month.

Communications Officer Philip Bransford said Wednesday afternoon that County Counsel Alan Rappleyea signed a letter to District Attorney Bob Hermann dropping criminal mischief charges against Medill "after consulting with the county administrator and Board of Commissioners."

Medill, 66 — impatient over inaction by the county in the wake of the Aug. 25 drownings of Jova Ixtacua-Castano, 42; her son, Michael Garcia-Ixtacua, 13; her daughter, Gabriela Garcia-Ixtacua, 25; and Gabriela’s son, Jeremy Scholl, 3 — installed temporary signs last Saturday warning visitors of a steep dropoff in the water near the Sain Creek Picnic Area.

He had not asked for permission from the county, which manages park operations.

County sheriff's deputies issued Medill a citation with a fine of up to $5,000, depending on the judge's discretion. But Medill's citizen activism and public outcry over the deaths propelled officials into action, and by Monday, temporary signs went up.

Bransford said permanent signs were going in Wednesday afternoon. He indicated that even though staff at Scoggins Valley Park, where Hagg Lake is located, "took appropriate actions in response to [Medill's] criminal behavior," county officials had experienced a change of heart about how to respond to it.

"We recognize this was a unique circumstance and that Mr. Medill's actions were motivated by the tragic incident at Hagg Lake and his intent was to perform a public service," Bransford said. "We also recognize that our park manager and our deputy were doing their duty in protecting park property and enforcing the law when this citation was issued."

In addition to erecting signs calling attention to the dangerous dropoff in Sain Creek and urging individuals not to enter the water unless they're wearing life vests, Bransford noted the county was preparing to take further measures to put up more signs and promote safety at the popular swimming, boating and fishing venue.

“We’re going to do more. It’s going to take some weeks, but our idea is not to sign just one location," said Bransford, adding officials would "keep looking at usage patterns — knowing where there’s popular swimming activity — [and] trying to respond to public concerns."

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