The family of a Martinez woman fatally struck by an SUV on Mullikin Road more than a year ago is asking county officials to change a county ordinance to allow them to keep a roadside memorial at the crash site.
Christian Giles, 24, died July 16, 2008, while walking with her husband and dogs near her Sawbuck Way home. Her family has constructed a memorial, complete with solar-powered spotlights, at the crash site.
A county ordinance requires that such memorials be removed after one year.
"A roadside memorial for the family and friends of those lost on Columbia County roadways does not have an expiration date," Mrs. Giles' brother-in-law, Brett Giles, told the Columbia County Public Works Services Committee on Tuesday.
"The grief brought on by such a tragedy does not ever fully disappear. So, we feel that one year is not a sufficient amount of time for a memorial," he said.
County officials adopted the ordinance in March 2004. After the one-year expiration, the law allows a symbol to be painted on the roadway at the site, said Matt Schlachter, interim Construction and Maintenance Division director.
Schlachter said a nearby resident had asked that the memorial be removed.
"(The resident) said it was a distraction, people stopping at all times of the night on the side of the road," Schlachter said.
From the official point of view, the memorials are similar to illegal signs along the roadway. But out of respect for grieving families and because of a lack of manpower to enforce the ordinance, the memorials usually are allowed to remain unless they pose a safety hazard or a resident complains about them, Schlachter said.
Other memorials erected to those who died in vehicle crashes on Columbia County roads include ones honoring Lea Turner, 17, on Hardy-McManus Road in Evans; Christen Renfro, 16, on Cobbham Road (a state-owned road) in Appling; and Ryan Howell, 17, on William Few Parkway in Evans.
"While memorials to some are looked at as distractions and safety hazards, to me it is something else," said Giles, who lives in the same neighborhood where his sister-in-law lived. He said his brother, Auburn, visits his wife's memorial daily.
"So, leaving my neighborhood every morning, when I see that memorial, it reminds me to drive a little more cautious and attentively."
County officials agreed to review the ordinance, which applies only to county-owned roads.
"We can't enforce (the ordinance) on state-owned roads," Schlachter said. "That's not our property."
The Georgia Department of Transportation's policy about roadside memorials is stricter than the county ordinance. Memorials on state roads will be immediately removed if they pose any kind of danger to motorists, such as blocking lines of sight or attracting too much attention from people along the roadside, said Crystal Paulk-Buchanan, a state DOT spokeswoman.
"We strongly discourage people from putting them up," Paulk-Buchanan said, adding that people alongside state roads could be in danger themselves, and the people and materials on the roadside can be distracting to passing motorists.
If a roadside memorial is not a safety hazard, it typically is left in place until the next scheduled maintenance in the area, Paulk-Buchanan said.
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