Kirk Sudduth, superintendent of Mississippi Department of Transportation in Lowndes County, stands next to some roadside memorials he has collected in the past couple months. Lowndes County, he said, has a slim number of these makeshift memorials compared to other counties in the state. Photo by: Micah Green/Dispatch Staff
August 5, 2013 9:43:11 AM
Kirk Sudduth gets them himself. That way, he knows it is done right.
"I live here. I was born here. I was raised here," said Sudduth, the superintendent for the Mississippi Department of Transportation in Lowndes County. "So I'm sympathetic to them."
What he "gets" are the roadside memorials that spring up near spots where people have died in traffic-related accidents. Who he is sympathetic to are the people who leave them.
"I know people are very sensitive," Sudduth said.
Earlier this year, the state, citing safety concerns, began asking the public to stop placing the memorials along state roadways. They can distract drivers, they say. They can be hazards.
"Any area remotely close to a highway can be an extremely dangerous location," MDOT executive director Melinda McGrath said in a statement.
It is also illegal -- a highway shoulder is only to be used during emergencies. But the law has been in place for years. Asked, why MDOT is just now starting to enforce the law, MDOT District 1 Engineer Bill Jamieson said a number of factors are in play.
For one, cell phones already distract drivers and removing the memorials cut down on others. Also, for unclear reasons, the memorials seem to have grown across the state in recent years.
Jamieson is based in Tupelo. His district oversees 16 counties, including Lowndes, in northeast Mississippi. He said those counties average about 10 memorials each that have been removed.
Jamieson admitted he has received a few angry phone calls from people who have placed memorials at the spots where their loved ones have died. He understands their emotions, he said.
"That's one reason that we're treating them with the reverence they deserve," he said. "My perfect world would be no fatalities, no accidents. But anything we can do to reduce accidents, we're going to do it."
Since June, Sudduth has picked up 10 memorials from the side of the 255 miles of road MDOT maintains in Lowndes County. Each time he collects them he marks the spot with a GPS, takes a picture of the scene and creates a separate work order.
The memorials have come from all over -- at the intersection of Highway 82 and Highway 45, off Highway 45 North near Columbus Air Force Base, off Highway 12 near Duncan Road, off Highway 50 West.
Each county stores them at the local MDOT maintenance management location. They are held for 90 days in the event that the families would like to pick them up.
At the Lowndes County spot in Columbus, on Highway 69, Sudduth has what he's collected sitting on the porch so the rain doesn't touch them.
Two little white crosses barely a foot high. A solid wooden cross, nearly four feet tall. Maybe half a dozen artificial bouquets.
Sudduth said anyone who wants to contact him to retrieve their memorials can call him at (662) 231-2652.
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