July 2, 2013

Scarborough aims to regulate roadside memorials

Scarborough drafts a plan to respect crash victims' families while protecting public safety, but critics oppose it.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

SCARBOROUGH – Town officials plan to propose an ordinance to regulate roadside memorials at sites of fatal crashes, joining communities nationwide that have tried to address the issue, often with limited success.

click image to enlarge

Cindy Delano poses for a portrait Saturday, June 29, 2013, by the roadside memorial for her 18-year old son Steven Delano, who was killed in a car crash in 2010 at the corner of Holmes and Payne Road in Scarborough. Standing with Delano is Kevin Grondin, who was in the vehicle with Steven Delano when the accident occurred.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

A roadside memorial occupies the location of a fatal accident on Payne Rd., near Holmes Road, in Scarborough on Sunday, June 30, 2013. Roadside memorials have become the centerpiece of a debate as the Scarborough Town Council considers a proposed ordinance that would regulate them. The Town Council will discuss the ordinance at its July 17 meeting.

Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer

Several sites in Scarborough have memorials where people died in crashes. That has prompted some town councilors to call for a policy in which the town would work with families of the victims and owners of the properties to be respectful of victims' memories and cognizant of road safety.

The proposal was prompted largely by a memorial at the intersection of Payne and Holmes roads, where Steven Delano, a Scarborough High School senior, was killed on May 8, 2010, when the car he was driving was hit by a tanker truck. Delano, 18, was driving three friends to the high school prom at the time of the crash.

Town Manager Thomas Hall said officials considered all of the roadside memorials in town before drafting the proposed ordinance. The memorial for Delano stood out because of its size and because people have continued to visit it frequently since 2010.

"In that one in particular, there was such grief that it served as a gathering spot," Hall said. "It was truly a public safety issue."

He said the memorial is now smaller, but for a while it included a decorated Christmas tree and other items that distracted drivers along Payne Road.

"The intention is not to disallow these. It is to provide some level of consistency. We think this is a better way to memorialize someone," Hall said. "If people want to mark where the spot is, this policy provides a way for them to do that. We think it would be better to have a policy in place instead of playing it by ear."

Communities that try to legislate how people grieve with roadside memorials and spontaneous shrines are usually on a "fool's errand," said Sylvia Grider, professor emerita of anthropology at Texas A&M University, who has studied the phenomena of roadside memorials for more than 20 years.

"All over the country, this same problem is cropping up and each community has to deal with it," she said. "This is a very deep-rooted tradition in American culture that is becoming more prevalent because of the media attention. In communities that have passed legislation, people go ahead and put them up anyway."

While the Scarborough Town Council plans to consider a new policy on July 17, a young man who maintains the memorial for Steven Delano says he has rallied hundreds of people to oppose it.

Kevin Grondin, who was in the crash with Delano, his best friend, and was in a coma for weeks afterward, said the memorial should remain untouched.

"They will never touch it, ever," said Grondin, who visits three or four times per week.

None of the communities surrounding Scarborough has rules for roadside memorials. And unlike many other states, Maine has no policy for memorials. A recent effort at the state level to protect and regulate the emotionally charged shrines was soundly defeated.

State Rep. Kathleen Chase, a Republican from Wells, proposed legislation this year to make it a crime to tamper with a private memorial in a public right of way, punishable by as much as a year in jail and a fine of $2,000. Chase's bill also included a size limit for memorials and limited the time they could be protected to one year.

The bill was defeated in the Legislature in March, with the House voting against it by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio.

Chase said she pushed for the legislation on behalf of a family who put up a cross on Tatnic Road in Wells in memory of their son and another teenager, who were killed there in 2010.

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