Independence to remove roadside memorials, families of victims furious

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. - A decision by the city of Independence to remove all homemade roadside memorials in the coming weeks has some families of accident victims furious at what they described as a shocking and senseless move.

Cheryl Cooper's 17-year-old son Christopher was killed by a drunk driver fleeing police in 2007. She has tended a memorial to his life since then, consisting of flowers and a photo banded to a curbside pole.

She said she heard about the city's decision to have the memorials removed when a reporter called her last week.

"After all these years, I couldn't believe that they were doing it, and then I wanted to know why," Cooper said in an interview on Monday. "As of yet, I don't really have an answer that makes any sense to me."

Another mother of a fatal crash victim, Norberta Lull, said the decision to remove memorials like the flowers she leaves on a pole in a median on Noland Road felt like the city was "picking on" victims of tragedy.

City officials say removing the memorials doesn't reflect any new ordinances, but rather a decision to more stringently enforce current prohibitions against signs, memorials and other materials on city property like signs and power poles.

Second district councilman Curt Dougherty championed the new policy, and said on Monday that other council members had long complained about handmade memorials that became "eyesores" or distractions to other drivers.

He cast the decision to remove the memorials as the city simply following through on existing law.

"Its against city ordinance, existing ordinance, to place anything on our light poles, our stop signs, our right-of ways," Dougherty said. "As we go through our normal cleaning process and clean our streets and gutters, these (memorials) will have to be removed, as well as anything else that might be out there."

In place of the handmade memorials, Independence will offer city-made, metal signs to families. The signs would measure 18 inches by 24 inches, and could hang in place for two years before being taken down and given to family members. The would include the victim's name and could include phrases like "drive safely" or "buckle up."

City officials said the signs would cost families $150, the same as the cost to the city to manufacture and letter them.

"We can't have the taxpayers, who are already subsidizing the cleaning up the city streets, subsidizing the cost of a sign," Dougherty said.

But that doesn't cut it for some families.

"There's no way I would pay that fee. And its not just because of the money, its the principle of the thing," Cooper said of the city signs. "It doesn't have anything to do with the money."

Lull, too, said she would not pay for an official memorial sign.

Cooper vowed to continue to fight the city's decision to take down the memorial to her son.

"My son last lived at that spot, and I honor that spot as where he was last alive and a happy boy. Its not about his death, it's because I want people to know who he was," Cooper said. "That's the wish, the fondest wish, of every grieving parent in this world, that people know their children."

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