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MDOT removes roadside memorials amid safety concerns

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Updated: 7/26/2013 10:58 pm
MONROE COUNTY, Miss. (WTVA) -- At first, Monroe County resident Paulette Crosby couldn't understand why her daughter's cross and fourteen others in the county were taken by the Mississippi Department of Transportation this week.

"I put the cross up as a memorial to my daughter, to her life. This is the place where she took her last breath," Crosby said.

Now that cross is at the county's maintenance headquarters along with several others.

They've been removed by MDOT because of what district engineer Bill Jamieson calls safety considerations.

"Depending on what's put out there, a lot of times it's a very dangerous situation," Jamieson said.

It's also illegal.

The Mississippi State Code says anything inside the state right-of-way not authorized by MDOT is considered an encroachment or obstruction and is not allowed.

The old rule of thumb for right-of-way used to be the area from the road to the ditch, which usually runs alongside the road.

After the ditch, the person's property would start, but everything between the road and the ditch would be right-of-way.

That's not a hard-and-fast rule, though.

And Jamieson says it presents a safety hazard and possible liability for the department.

"Some of them are big enough that if the car hit 'em and they broke off, part of them could come through the windshield and hit somebody or still do severe damage to the vehicle."

Like this cross, which stood more than six feet high, cemented into the ground before MDOT employees removed it.

Resident Sherrel Clark's memorial wasn't included, though.

"Even though I've been allowed to leave mine here because it's not in the right-of-way, my heart hurts for the ones who are not able to leave theirs where it's at, because that's kind of a 'help me keep my child's memory alive.'"

Clark has even organized a petition to get the law in Mississippi changed to allow roadside memorials in some fashion, with more than seventy electronic signatures as of Friday night.

But for Zach Robinson, whose mother died a decade ago on Highway 6 near Bigbee, some questions remain unanswered.

"If it's been a law for so long not to have these things, why all of a sudden yank them up?" Robinson asks.

His grandmother agrees.

"We should have had more time before they started removing them. I think we should have had a few weeks' notice," Crosby said.

MDOT will keep the memorials for three months at that particular county's maintenance office to allow enough time for family members to pick them up.

Those who want to check on their memorials can do so by calling MDOT's Northern District office in Tupelo at (662) 844-1122.
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