By JB Clark
TUPELO – Mississippi drivers can expect to see fewer memorials on the side of state highways from now on.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation is removing memorials from the right-of-ways of state highways in what it says is an effort to reduce distracted driving.
The memorials are being documented and stored at the district maintenance offices.
“We get federal funds and as a part of that (federal regulations require) us to maintain encroachments off the right-of-ways,” said MDOT Deputy Executive Director Mark McConnell. “We just started doing it because we’re sympathetic and no one wants to remove these, but it’s a danger to not only the travelers, but also the people that put them up.”
Colt Snell of Tupelo, along with friends and family, set up a memorial for Katie Beth Carruth on Highway 45 in Monroe County where she died in a May 2012 car crash.
“I didn’t know that it was taken down,” Snell said. “Initially it was kind of a shock. Why would someone take it down? I was confused and just wanted to know if I could get it back because so much thought and love went into it.”
Snell said he contacted MDOT and after talking to a few different people was able to locate and retrieve the memorial. He said the process of locating and retrieving the memorial was simple.
“When we picked it up there were little pieces, like necklaces hung on the cross, and it was all there and taken care of,” he said. “Now it’s at my house and we’re trying to figure out what to do with it.”
Snell said they have thought about contacting the owner of the land next to the right-of-way where the memorial was originally displayed.
“It would be well off the road but if they’re trying to cut down on distractions, that may defeat the purpose,” Snell said. “We’ve talked about moving it next to her gravesite as well.”
The second round of memorial pickups will begin in coming months.
“We started (picking up memorials) this year with our first mowing cycle,” McConnell said. “It’s been going on in May, June and July and we have another fall cutting so any of them that were missed on the first mowing we’ll get on the next.”
He said MDOT mowing crews photograph and take the GPS coordinates of each memorial they encounter before carefully removing it. They then take the memorial to the maintenance office where they will be stored for up to three months until arrangements are made to pick them up.
Lee County Coroner Carolyn Green said she is upset they are removing roadside memorials.
“I think they’re great to show someone has died here, you may need to slow down, and also as a mother I would want someone to know this is where a life ended if it was my child,” Green said. “I don’t see how it’s a distraction any more than a road sign.”