Photo by Tim Wiederaenders.
Originally Published: September 7, 2016 6:03 a.m.
Crosses mark the place along Outer Loop Road near Williamson Valley Road where three members of the same Chino Valley family were killed in an October 2013 head-on collision.
Julianna Hersh, 23, was driving. Joseph, 15, Jeremiah, 13, and Jessa, 9, were her passengers. The family was headed to school that fall morning, when the Hersh’s Chevy Aveo was struck by a car driven by a 63-year-old woman, who had crossed the centerline, according to law enforcement reports.
Julianna, Jeremiah, and Jessa were killed, and a homemade roadside memorial surreptitiously appeared at the crash site.
Now whomever erected it may no longer need to worry that it will be carted off by highway officials.
In an abrupt change in policy, the Arizona Department of Transportation will now officially allow such markers to be placed along state highways. And if they can be erected safely and meet other standards, they’ll be allowed to remain - forever.
There’s no shortage of these markers now.
But ADOT spokesman Steve Elliott said as highways workers find them, they put up a notice telling whoever erected them that they’ve got 60 days to remove them.
And if they’re creating a hazard, they’re gone immediately.
The new policy recognizes that families often want some sort of marker near where a loved one died. And Elliott said they also can serve a public purpose.
“They’re reminders of dangers along highways,” he said.
“As the (Prescott District) Highway Patrol commander, I see these memorials as reminders to the motoring public to slow down, use caution while driving and to not drive impaired as someone has tragically lost their life on this roadway,” DPS Capt. G.R. Manera said.
ADOT engineers will decide on a case-by-case basis where these memorials can be placed and where they cannot.
“The roadside memorials are not typically a problem for the Highway Patrol in (the Prescott District), as long as they are off the roadway and on to the dirt right-of-way area,” Manera said.
The basic rules are simple: No more than 30 inches high and 18 inches wide and made of wood, plastics or composite.
There can be a foundation to keep it from moving, but not with concrete or metal footings. And it can have a plaque with the victim’s name, date of birth and date of death.
But no photographs.
ADOT said families who already have memorials along highways may either leave in place those that meet safety standards, or with ADOT to replace memorials that don’t meet the safety standards for size, materials and placement.
That still leaves the question of where ADOT will allow them to be placed.
“On a controlled-access highway where there’s a lot of traffic, most likely that’s not going to work out,” Elliott said, if for no reason other than his agency doesn’t want people pulling over on the edge of an urban freeway to set up the memorial.
He said ADOT has the authority to allow markers within cities and on Indian reservations as long as it remains on state property. But if the site is in front of someone’s property, whether residential or business, the permission of the owner is required.
And Elliott said they need to be designed so as not to require maintenance by anyone, including the family. “They’re not to be having people pull over and tend them constantly.”
Courier reporter Scott Orr contributed to this story.