Are Roadside Memorials Dangerous? - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

06/24/03

Are Roadside Memorials Dangerous?

There is a growing debate across the country about roadside memorials. Now, the question is being asked, are they a fitting tribute that helps survivors with the grieving process, or are they a distraction for drivers?

Three states have gone so far as to even outlaw roadside memorials. Mississippi is not one of those states, at least not yet. Mississippi Highway Patrol Sgt. Joe Gazzo says he would not be surprised to see some type of law eventually be enacted in Mississippi.

''It is growing to where it will be a problem down the line, as people build bigger and bigger memorials on the side of the road, " Gazzo said.

Lawmakers in those states where some restrictions have been imposed, have argued they can actually be a distraction to drivers. Most people we asked said it did not bother them. One person even pointed out that billboards can be a distraction.

One of the more prominent roadside memorials in Biloxi, is on highway 90, near Edgewater Mall. It's in memory of Tracey Staunton, a 20 year old soccer player from Ireland, who had just come to the states to play for William Carey College. She died last year, on a wet, cold December night, when an alleged drunk driver hit her car from behind.

A few weeks after her death, her parents came to South Mississippi from Dublin. One of the things they did, was memorialize their only daughter, at the site where she died.

''To have not come to America, to not come here, we would always be wondering. We are trying to put a picture on the whole thing from start to finish. This is part of the healing grieving process," her father told WLOX News back in January.

Victims rights groups argue, the memorials are an important part of the healing process, and serve as a reminder to drivers to use caution on the road.

As a state trooper, Joe Gazzo has spent the last 25 years dealing with the difficult task of telling families their loved one died in a car accident.

''It would be hard to tell somebody that they could not honor a loved one. I can feel for these people," Gazzo said.

He also added, that he has never investigated a case where someone in an accident said they were distracted by a roadside memorial.

By Jeff Lawson

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