Roadside memorials in Oklahoma

Tuesday, August 19th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Roadside memorials are a popular way to honor a person who's died in a car crash, but they are also causing a lot of controversy.

Many states are making it illegal to put up flowers, pictures or crosses alongside a road. In other states, such memorials can only stay up for a short period of time. News on 6 crime reporter Lori Fullbright has Oklahoma's position on roadside shrines.

Stan Brown is a Claremore Police captain; dealing with death is part of his job. But when his wife of just 14 months, Angie, was killed in a car accident a year ago March, it became much more personal. "It's very important to us to let people know that a person important in our life, left life here." That's why Stan and his stepdaughter placed a sunflower at the spot where the crash happened, because sunshine was Angie's nickname and also her personality.

He says it's an important way to remember her, especially for Angie's daughter. "Sometimes she'll blow a kiss, sometimes she'll wave. She says this is where her mama went to heaven. And, sometimes, she's just silent.” Some states say the memorials are popping up so frequently and some of them are so elaborate, that they're a safety hazard for drivers and for the people who stand next to busy roads, putting them there.

Four states have banned them altogether; others only allow state purchased memorials. Oklahoma doesn't currently have a law or even an official policy concerning roadside memorials. They basically take an approach that uses common sense and sensitivity. If a memorial is causing a safety hazard, they move it to the nearest right of way, but they don't just take it away. Because it is such a sensitive matter and one that some say involves freedom of speech, lawmakers are reluctant to jump into the fray.

As a police officer, Stan Brown, appreciates safety issues, but feels these memorials, rather than distracting drivers, may actually remind them to drive more safely. "I check my speed and become a more defensive driver for having seen that.” Oklahoma doesn't plan to outlaw memorials, but if it did, Stan has still created a special place in Angie's memory at the home the two were buying at the time of her death.

Some states like Missouri don't allow memorials, but encourage families to adopt a segment of highway in their loved one's memory and keep it free of litter.