- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

VALPARAISO, Ind. (AP) - For the longest time, Andrea Dove refused to drive down a particular stretch of road on 450 North near the entrance to Rieth Riley Construction in LaPorte.

It’s where her cousin, Dawn Dove, was killed in a traffic accident in 1991.

For 10 years she avoided the site. Then five years ago, she began driving a school bus route of which took her past the crash site. Last year, she placed a white cross at the spot where her cousin died. It remains this year, the 26th anniversary of the accident.

“I wanted something to look at,” Andrea Dove said.

Andrea Dove is not alone. Marking the site of a death on a highway or road has roots in the Hispanic culture of the Southwest, where the memorials are often referred to as “descansos” (places of rest).

These decansos are scattered through the Region and the country. Some have been up for years and are regularly maintained by loved ones of the crash victim. Others are new and how long they remain is unknown.

Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Doug Moats said there are no state laws or regulations specifically identifying or regulating roadside memorials. In general, Moats said INDOT has the authority and responsibility to remove unauthorized signs and impediments to traffic from state right of way.

“INDOT does not encourage placement of memorials,” he said. “However, we recognize that they are an important part of the grieving process for some individuals. As a result, INDOT has taken a position of understanding and flexibility in dealing with roadside memorials.”

Moats said typically, small displays of flowers, pictures or crosses are left in place until it is necessary to remove them for construction or maintenance operations, which might include mowing, trash collection or guardrail and shoulder work. There is no set time that memorials may be left in place.

“If the displays are large enough to be a distraction to motorists, or if they in some other way constitute a hazard, they will be removed immediately,” he said. “If contact information is left with the display, INDOT will attempt to reach the owner so they may retrieve the removed items at an INDOT facility.”

In Valparaiso, Public Works Director Matt Evans said he is not aware of any ordinance that speaks specifically to roadside memorials.

“I do know that the right of way exists for the purpose of the governmental agency and that only board of works approved items may be placed in it,” he said. “To my knowledge, mailboxes and trees that the city plants are the only approved items that do not need board of works authorization. Everything else - roadside memorials, landscaping, irrigation systems - need board of works permission.”

Evans said if the memorial is on private property they will leave it alone.

“If the memorial is in the public right of way, it will be handled on a case-by-case basis with the priority being to avoid line of sight hazards for pedestrians or motorists,” he said.

In St. John, Town Manager Steve Kil said they do not have an ordinance that specifically addresses roadside memorials.

“I believe it would be handled by the broader scope of our zoning ordinance,” he said. “I have known of memorials being up for a limited amount of time; however, I do not believe that we have any in town that have been up for years.”

In Griffith, Stephanie Pinkerton and others maintained a cross and memorial at the site where their high school classmate, David Collier, was killed in 2005 when his car collided with a train at the Miller and Wood street crossing.

There were no crossing gates at the time of the accident and when guards were put in, Pinkerton said the said memorial was removed.

“Since that day, I never knew where the cross was placed, but I think of him every time I cross a set of tracks in town,” she said. “He will forever be missed but his smile and love of life will always be on the minds of many.”

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Source: The (Northwest Indiana) Times, http://bit.ly/2ktzHBY

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Information from: The Times, http://www.nwitimes.com

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