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Scarborough may regulate roadside memorials

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Posted: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 7:04 am | Updated: 9:07 am, Wed Jun 26, 2013.

SCARBOROUGH – A new ordinance, unanimously approved June 19 by a Scarborough town committee, seeks to regulate roadside memorials, most often created in places where people have been killed in automobile accidents.

Although there are said to be at least half a dozen such memorials alongside Scarborough roads, the most well-known may be the large, orange cross erected near the intersection of Payne and Holmes roads. That’s the spot where, on May 8, 2010, Steven Delano was killed when the vehicle he was driving was struck by a tanker. Delano, an 18-year-old high school senior at the time, was on his way to a prom with three friends.

The memorial has been built up in the intervening years with landscaping pavers and a host of flowers. This past winter, a large Christmas tree even appeared at the site. However, according to Town Council Chairman Ron Ahlquist, some people were troubled when the tree remained in place for several months after the holiday season.

For the past two months, the rules and policies committee has worked on ways to respect the grieving process of friends and family of fatal accident victims, while also limiting driver distractions and addressing concern that some memorials are placed out of the right of way, on private property.

The new ordinance, to be considered by the Town Council at its July 17 meeting, actually calls on the town to work with the families of victims to erect memorial markers.

According to Councilor Judy Roy, the town will not seek to hinder spontaneous expressions of grief in the immediate aftermath of a fatal accident. However, at some “reasonable” time after any police investigation or court case stemming from a crash is completed, the town will work with the victim’s family, if they wish to erect a permanent marker.

According to Rules and Policies Committee Chairman James Benedict, who drafted the ordinance proposal, 4-inch-by-4-inch granite markers kept in stock at public works for delineating property boundaries will be used for the memorials. The stones, which cost the town $27, will be affixed with memorial plates carrying from one to four lines of text, at a cost of $22.75 to $40.95, depending on the number of characters used.

“Given that we do not have that many of these situations I feel it may beneficial in getting families’ cooperation in meeting our goal of limiting the distraction that these can have,” said Benedict, of the expense.

The 3-foot-tall markers will be placed at the site of an accident, or as close to the site as possible if on private property, with 1 foot above ground and the rest buried. The ordinance also will allow families to decorate the stones with flowers and other small items on holidays and anniversaries.

Benedict said much of the display controls listed in the ordinance were lifted directly from the town’s cemetery ordinances. These include a ban on glass jars and “unsightly metal receptacles” and well as a provision allowing the town to remove any flower or plant it deems to have become “unsightly, dangerous, detrimental or diseased.”

“It’s become more and more common for families and friends to identify a spot where a loved one may have died in a motor vehicle accident,” said Police Chief Robert Moulton. “Previously, without any policy, it’s been all over the board in terms of the nature and size of these types of memorials.

“There was a concern that, in some cases, these could provide a distraction that could even lead to another accident,” said Moulton.

Moulton said he reached out to three area families who have maintained roadside memorials. All expressed support for the new ordinance, he said.

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