Driving with her husband through Modesto on Monday night, Cynthia Londo had her phone out to catch lightning flashes. Instead, she captured a highly charged statement.
An electronic traffic message board along South Carpenter Road near West Hatch Road read, "Trump is a bitch."
"We just started laughing," Londo said. Several other cars slowed, too, as occupants — hopefully, passengers not drivers — took photos.
Londo didn't get any good photos of lightning, she said, but "I thought everybody would get a kick out of it (the message board), so I put it on Facebook."
So, how did the message get there?
The sign was hacked, said Matt Machado, public works director for Stanislaus County. And not some remote, sitting-at-your-keyboard-at-home hack. Whoever did it cut padlocks off the equipment right there at roadside, opened the unit and rewrote the sign's message, he said.
"We put the board out Friday afternoon, and over the weekend it was hacked," Machado said. "We reset it Monday and it was hacked again."
So, on Tuesday morning, Public Works simply pulled the batteries out of the unit, as well as a second unit in the same area. Otherwise, the vandals likely would have just broken into the second unit, Machado said.
"We're looking at additional security measures," he said. "I don't have a great solution yet, but we're looking at chaining them down, cabling them (and) something to prevent people from breaking into the units."
After programming the unit to display the Trump message, the vandals stole its controller, and the county is awaiting replacement parts, Machado said.
This is far from the first time, of course, that roadside message boards have been reprogammed. Just last month, The Washington Post reported that along Beach Drive in the District of Columbia's Rock Creek Park, a message was changed to '[Expletive] Trump. In addition to the anti-Trump message, the sign also flashed “Kill Nazis,” a passerby told the Post.
Earlier in August, KCRA 3 reported that an electronic message board on Interstate 80 near Dixon was altered to read, "Trump has herpes."
A Caltrans spokesman told the TV station that the vandal hijacked an important message warning motorists of major roadwork and likely traffic congestion ahead.
Machado said he believes the local messages were indicating a future road closure. "We are planning to reconstruct portions of Carpenter Road," he said.