Ottawa County Officials Reject Memorial Bridge Request

Monday, September 25th 2006, 10:09 am
By: News On 6

A debate will continue over how to recognize the sacrifice of a soldier from Miami. US Air Force Tech Sergeant Jason Norton was killed in January. His family wants a bridge named after him - but they've run into a roadblock.

News on 6 reporter Emory Bryan says the problem is the bridge already has a name. The family the bridge is named for now - doesn't want to see it change - and they've got the Ottawa County Commissioners on their side.

It's a transportation relic over the Neosho River near Commerce. The Stepp Ford Bridge is named for the man who ferried people across before the bridge was built. Stepp family descendant Tabitha Stepp Reeves: "And so it's just history, it's my family history."

Tabitha Reeves is the great-great granddaughter of Andrew Jackson Stepp - the man the bridge is named for. "It's my family history, my father takes my sons out there to fish, they do that all the time, and he tells them the story of their great-great-great grandfather."

But there's another family, which would like to see the bridge renamed. Bert Norton is the brother of Tech Sergeant Jason Norton - an airman killed in Iraq last January. "If anything was ever to become of him he wanted his ashes put there because we grew up there and enjoyed it and it's a special place to him and to us."

The ashes were dropped from the bridge into the muddy water where Norton loved to fish. His brother asked the Ottawa County commissioners to re-name the bridge for his brother - but they refused. Ottawa County commissioners Kenneth Palmer: "It's been known as Stepp Ford, it's on the maps as Stepp Ford, it's got a lot of history, we can't just go change history."

The commissioners also refused to allow a plaque on the one lane bridge - because of concerns that anyone trying to read it might be run over. Norton says he doesn’t understand the reluctance of the commissioners, but plans to keep trying to make this bridge a memorial for his brother.

With the county commissioners refusing to budge, the Norton family plans to go to a higher power, the state legislature and perhaps Congress, in their effort to get the bridge renamed.