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ROADSIDE MEMORIALS HONOUR LOVED ONES, SEEK JUSTICE
by Bruce Owen
Updated: August 24, 2008 at 08:17 AM CDT
The dead cannot cry out for justice; it is a duty of the living to do so for them’
— Lois McMaster Bujold, U.S. science-fiction author, in Diplomatic Immunity, 2002
Every few days, Sveinn and Victoria Sveinson go to the intersection of Highway 59 and the north Perimeter Highway.
Sometimes they go together, sometimes alone.
It’s as close as they’ll ever be to their daughter now. Crystal Taman was killed Feb. 25, 2005, by an off-duty Winnipeg police officer, now no longer on the force, who rammed into the rear of her car as she waited for the traffic light.
Each time the Sveinsons go, it’s for the same thing: to clean and adjust the roadside memorial they maintain for Crystal.
“We want people to not forget,” Sveinn said of his and his wife’s care of their daughter’s roadside memorial at the intersection. “We don’t want people to forget what it does to people’s families.”
How the Taman case was investigated and prosecuted is the focus of a public inquiry. But hers is not the only roadside memorial in Manitoba.
Over the past few years, more and more grieving families and friends are laying wreaths, erecting crosses or even small statues of the Virgin Mary in memory of people killed in crashes. These personalized memorials not only mark where a loved one last lived, they also signify how the nature of grief has changed in a society cynical about organized religion and unsure how to deal with death. In Taman’s case, there is a message, but hers is like the others in their public display of loss. At one time, we quietly buried our dead in cemeteries or scattered their ashes in cherished places. Our grief was a private thing. Now, it’s become a public event.
University of Manitoba religion professor Dr. Kenneth MacKendrick, who teaches a course about grief and photographs roadside memorials, said the rise of roadside memorials is common across Canada and the United States.
Research suggests erecting memorials for loved ones killed in crashes is a ritualistic response to grief in an era when few people go to church regularly and many are skeptical of organized religion, he said.
MacKendrick said also at play is a feeling we don’t know how to handle death, especially sudden death. Our world confines death to back-page obituaries or hushed corridors of funeral homes and hospital intensive care units.
So when someone we care about dies, we’re not so sure how to respond.
For a growing number of people, that confusion and grief pulls us back to the scene to find some type of solace.
The next step, the most natural one, is putting up a memorial where the person we loved took their last breath. We do it to remember them, but we also do it out of frustration.
“There’s no way to scream in public,” MacKendrick said of the decision to put up a public memorial, “so I’m going to do it this way.”
University of Manitoba landscape architecture assistant professor Karen Wilson Baptist said the rise in roadside and other memorials can be traced partly to the 1997 death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The huge outpouring of public grief, the mountain of flowers outside her Kensington Palace home, were perhaps a signal to the rest of us it’s OK to grieve publicly.
Wilson Baptist also photographs roadside memorials and is writing her dissertation on the role these memorials play in how we see the land around us.
She said the act of maintaining a memorial is a lot like maintaining a flower garden. It brings beauty and peace to a place where someone died unexpectedly and horrifically.
“It gives them a remnant of the person who died. They have access to them. It’s also a place to let go of a painful memory.”
More roadside memorials are appearing throughout the province. Even those that don’t name a victim are far from anonymous. Besides remembrance, some are also there because of other, more pertinent, unanswered questions.
Going south on the Maryland Bridge, there is a memorial to Doug Prysiazniuk, the City of Winnipeg worker who died last year when he was working under the bridge. The crew was operating a lift truck with an articulating bucket when the bucket suddenly shot up and crushed him against the underside of the bridge. A family member goes each week to check on the memorial and pray.
His father John said the memorial is there to remind anyone who stops to look that his son died on the job for no reason. The results of an investigation into Prysiazniuk’s death have not been released.
“People should ask how and why it happened,” John said. “Nobody knows. At least, we haven’t been told yet.”
At Arlington and Cathedral sits perhaps the most elaborate roadside memorial in the province. It’s dedicated to Rachelle Leost, a 39-year-old mother killed in May 2007 when she was struck by a stolen vehicle. Two men were arrested; one was charged with impaired driving causing death.
Leost’s common-law husband, Perry Gaudry, said Rachel’s memorial was set up as a reminder of a life stolen.
“We want this to be a reminder to people of what happened there,” Gaudry said. “Someone who shouldn’t have lost their life lost their life there because of someone else’s action.”
Leost’s family drives past the site half a dozen times a day and tends it frequently. Someone — the family does not know who — added statues of the Virgin Mary. The memorial has never been vandalized, and snow removal crews have been careful not to bury or damage it.
For the Taman, Prysiazniuk and Leost families, their memorials make a statement more powerful than words — this is the place where someone we loved died needlessly, even unjustly. At the same time, these memorials allow others to be silent mourners, to stop and grieve without intruding or being seen.
Acknowledging the memorials’ importance, the City of Winnipeg set out some rules about them almost two years ago. Memorials must not pose a safety hazard to other drivers and pedestrians and should not fall into disrepair. Memorials are normally expected to be removed within six months, but that’s more a suggestion than a rule.
Manitoba plans to partner with Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada on a program that will see a sign, including MADD’s red ribbon and the name of the crash victim, erected where that person was killed by an impaired driver. Ontario, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island already take part in similar programs that aim to promote road safety and limit the number of personalized memorials.
MacKendrick said it’s unlikely any political authority will clamp down on roadside memorials, although they could be considered a hazard, momentarily diverting a driver’s attention.
Authorities in about 25 states have started to deal with the proliferation of memorials, also known as descansos (resting place) in Spanish. Texas, Massachusetts and California allow memorials only for people killed by impaired drivers. Others have banned them from interstate highways or limit the time they can be up or encourage families to use standardized crosses. Delaware has created a memorial park in hopes of discouraging roadside shrines.
Canadian officials are dealing with the same issues. Prince Albert, Sask., officials are struggling over setting a reasonable length of time to allow roadside memorials. Calgary is studying the issue. Alberta encourages people who want to erect a memorial to instead enrol in the Adopt-A-Highway program.
While cities, provinces, states and countries have policies aimed at controlling memorials, they do have one thing in common: no matter what the law says, people still set up the memorials.
Jacquelyn Quiram of Illinois now runs an Internet business (http://roadsidememorials.com/) that sells crosses to anyone grieving the loss of a friend or loved one in a car crash.
Quiram said she started the business after her friend was killed by a car in 2003. She has sold several hundred crosses since. A 90-centimetre cross, stained oak or painted white, sells for $125.
When her friend was killed, Quiram found herself returning to the scene of the crash and wanting to do something to commemorate her friend’s life while at the same time sending a message about road safety.
“Death affects the community,” she said. “People tend to want to go back. It’s a step in the grieving process.”
Quiram said the crosses are not road hazards, that drivers talking on cellphones are far more dangerous.
What her crosses and most other memorials do is remind people to be careful, that life is fragile and anything can happen from one moment to the next.
And that no one is completely safe. Ever.
CITY OF WINNIPEG’S
Roadside memorials may be permitted
subject to meeting the requirements
of the streets and traffic
bylaws and the following standards.
Memorials are normally expected to
be removed within a reasonable time
frame, to a maximum of six months.
Memorials must not interfere with .
traffic-control devices or affect the
safe operation of the highway system.
Memorials must not interfere with sight
lines for traffic, nor create undue distractions
for motorists or impediments for
. All memorials must be installed and
maintained at the applicant’s expense.
. Memorial locations must be approved
by the streets maintenance division and
the traffic management branch. Once
an installation is approved, the applicant
should leave contact information
with the public works customer service
. It is the responsibility of the installing
agency or individual, not the public
works department, to obtain the necessary
underground or utility clearance,
(such as Hydro, MTS, gas, etc.) before
installation. Costs to repair any damage
to underground installations, and costs
of any consequential damages, will be
the responsibility of the installing agency
. Memorials must be installed as close
as practical to the far edge of the rightof-
way. Under no circumstances will
memorials be allowed in the median of
a divided highway or on traffic islands,
interchange loops or roundabouts.
Approval of memorials other than
crosses must be obtained from the
traffic management branch before
installation to ensure public safety in
the event of errant or off-road vehicle
collision. Crosses must meet the following
. Crosses must be constructed of wood
or other lightweight materials which will
break away if struck by an errant vehicle.
. Crosses may be a maximum height of
one metre. Crosses constructed of wood
may be made of lumber no larger than
25 by 100 millimetres in dimension.
. Crosses may include a small plaque
or plate giving the name of the deceased
and the date of the collision. In addition,
plaques or plates shall bear a contact
name and number.
. Colour of crosses must be white or
wood tone only, no fluorescent colours
or red, yellow or orange and no reflective
. The city will take reasonable measures
not to damage or destroy memorials
during road maintenance operations.
The city assumes no responsibility or
liability for any damages.
. Where memorials require removal for
street construction or maintenance, the
department will try to contact those responsible
for memorial installation. If the
city must remove memorials, they will
be held for 14 days. Under no circumstances
will the city reinstall memorials.
The city could remove memorials .
that fall into disrepair, are damaged,
vandalized, disfigured or burned, or fail
to meet standards of memorial location
. The installer is responsible for site
maintenance. The city is unable to
provide assurances regarding mowing,
brush clearing or other right-of-way
maintenance at memorial sites.
All locations are subject to review at .
the discretion of the director of public
works or his or her designate.
Between Birds Hill and Grand Beach there are half a dozen roadside memorials
to people killed in car crashes or hit by a car. Most memorials are concentrated
around Scanterbury at Brokenhead First Nation and north to Grand
Beach where the highway is only two lanes.
1. Memorial at Hwy. 59 and Birds Hill
Harris Mashinter, 19, was killed July 9, 2005,
when his car hit a metal light standard south
of the intersection of Hwy. 202, or Birds Hill
2. Memorial on Hwy. 59 two
kilometres south of Scanterbury
Jessica Nadine Straight, 25, was killed early
July 8, 2007, when a southbound car struck
her as she walked south on the highway.
3. Memorial on Hwy. 59
one kilometre south of Scanterbury
Kyle William Recksiedler, a 16-year-old
Grand Marais high school student, was
killed Aug. 31, 2003, when he pulled out to
pass slower northbound traffic and collided
almost immediately with a southbound Ford
Ranger. He was alone and wearing a seatbelt.
4. Memorial in east ditch of Hwy. 59
Brian Johnston, 52, of Scanterbury, was killed Oct. 23, 2005,
when he was hit by a northbound Honda CRV. Johnston was
wearing dark clothing as he walked in the northbound lane
and the driver did not see him.
5. Memorial on Hwy. 59 three
kilometres north of Scanterbury
Dallas Joan Pasaluko, 66, was killed Aug. 21, 2006, when she
lost control of her car and it crossed the highway, rolled and
landed on its roof in a water-filled ditch. Three people rescued
Pasaluko, but she died later.
6. Memorial on Hwy. 59 one
kilometre north of Stead turnoff.
Merrill Eugene Starr Oct. 19, 1993
7. Memorial on Hwy. 59 three kilometres south
of Grand Beach turnoff.
Unknown. There is no name on the white cross and wreath.
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