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Roadside memorials for accident victims are illegal in Oklahoma, but law not enforced

Crosses, flowers or other decorations often mark the spot a person died in a traffic accident. The roadside memorials are illegal, but Oklahoma law officers don't ticket offenders.
By Robert Medley Published: April 29, 2012

An arrangement of artificial orange flowers is tacked to the 2-foot-tall wooden cross on the grassy shoulder of southbound Lake Hefner Parkway.

Next to the cross, red-and-white tinsel with artificial poinsettias are wrapped around an exit sign for NW 63. The decorations have become weathered in the four months since Christmas.

Crosses dot the side of the highway. Sometimes there are flowers or pictures. Sometimes there are metal sculptures or small statues.

Roadside memorials are prohibited by law on public rights of way in Oklahoma, but the law is not enforced, authorities say.

A mother whose daughter was killed in an Edmond crash kept a cross at the site of the wreck for years, said Janella Tears, 58, of Edmond.

Tears founded the Oklahoma Victim's Impact Panel Inc. 22 years ago. She said grieving families have various reasons for roadside memorials.

Some place a cross along the highway as a message to the public that a life was ended by a drunken driver, she said. For others, the cross is a symbolic marker of the soul's journey.

“I knew a mother who said, “I don't look at it as the place my daughter died, but as an entry point to heaven,'” Tears said.

Melissa Cornelius, 35, of Mangum, regularly visits a 4-foot-tall steel cross in memory of her niece, Sierra Jo Cook, 13, who was killed riding in a vehicle Dec. 23, 2008.

Cook was a passenger in the vehicle when the driver, who had been drinking, dropped a cellphone and tried to pick it up, Cornelius said.

Students from an agriculture class at her school built the cross. It's on private property near the county road shoulder about two miles northwest of Magnum. A traffic is light nearby, but the yellow-painted cross is not a distraction to drivers, she said.

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