CDOT formalizes memorials
The Colorado Department of Transportation is trying to make roadside memorials to victims of fatal car crashes official.Summit County and Colorado are dotted with makeshift, informal memorials to people who have died on the roads. These are usually created by family members and include such things as names, religious symbols, flowers and notes.The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) started a program earlier this month – the Roadside Memorial Signing Program – designed to give grieving family members a more permanent option to honor their loved ones.The program was initiated by the Colorado Legislature and signed into law in May. The first sign was placed Sept. 8 in Evergreen in memory of Collin Lipinski Fisher, who died in a car accident Jan. 12.CDOT already had a similar program that memorializes those who have died in alcohol-related car accidents, in which a DUI conviction is required to be eligible for a sign. The new program broadens the offer to all victims of car accidents.
“It’s part of the grieving process,” said program coordinator Sharon DeWitt of CDOT. “It’s just part of what helps them get through it, especially if they have to drive by it on a regular basis.”The homemade memorials likely won’t disappear, DeWitt said, although they are illegal. CDOT generally does not remove them unless they are a hazard to drivers or get in the way of road construction.Among the informal memorials erected in Summit County are the two crosses dedicated to Cherie Byers and David Miles – young locals who died in a car crash on Highway 9 in 1997.Carrie Byers, mother of Cherie, who left Summit County in 2002, said the cross dedicated to her daughter was damaged shortly after it was placed in 1997 by road construction crews. It wasn’t repaired until earlier this year.Byers likes the idea of a more sturdy memorial, even if it doesn’t have the same personal touch.”I think it’s a great idea because these crosses are going to deteriorate,” she said. “We put a little design on it, but I would rather have one that was more permanent.”
DeWitt said some homemade memorials with religious symbols get vandalized. “Apparently there are people who find that offensive, having religious symbols on government property,” she said. “When we put up a sign, we know it will be safe.”Donna Miles, mother of David and still a Summit County resident, said one of the goals of the Highway 9 memorial is to encourage people to drive responsibly.”It’s such a great reminder, especially to the youth of our county,” she said. Miles is a religious woman. Her husband, Bruce, is a pastor at Rocky Mountain Bible Church in Frisco. She said she wouldn’t be opposed to replacing the homemade memorial with an official sign from CDOT, although she’d miss the spiritual aspect of having a cross at the site.
The Byers/Miles accident, however, may be too far in the past to be eligible for a CDOT sign. CDOT is limiting the program to accidents that occurred in the last few years. It’s a gray area, and DeWitt encourages anyone who is interested to at least apply. Only fatalities that occurred on state highways are eligible.The CDOT signs are blue and rectangular and say the words “Please Drive Safely” and “In Memory of (the person’s name).”They stay in place for six years then are given to the family or person who sponsored the sign. Cost is $100. Twenty-one applications have been filed already, none from Summit County.For more information, call CDOT at (303) 757-9360.Jason Starr can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 248, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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