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home : features : features February 5, 2016

2/26/2014 11:06:00 AM
Gentle reminders or distractions?
White Cross Project receives grants
A memorial stands to fallen officers on Highway 169.
Trib Photo/Briana Lonas
A memorial stands to fallen officers on Highway 169.
Trib Photo/Briana Lonas

Briana Lonas

Arizona's highways often feature decorated, makeshift crosses and memorials to honor loved ones who died on our state's roadways.

These poignant reminders lately have come across some controversy in various states. Do they really divert drivers' attention? Are they cluttering up the roads? Many motorists view these crosses as a loving way to capture the memory of a life while serving as a reminder not to drive distracted or under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Recently the Prescott Valley Police Department aired an 11-minute video titled, "The White Cross Project" produced through the collaborative efforts of the MATFORCE Underage Drinking Task Force and the Yavapai County Juvenile Probation L.E.A.P program. The PVPD received grant funding from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety to take part in the program.

The video highlights the meaning behind the roadside memorials, which mark locations where Yavapai County motorists have lost their lives, often decorated with cards, stuffed animals and flowers.

"We often think we're invincible," said Detective James Tobin, a long-time chair with the task force. Tobin said he hopes the video will have an impact on young drivers to make good choices, for example, buckle up, don't drive impaired and don't drive distracted.

Carmella Leyva sat in the audience during the video showing; in the movie she explains how her son, Christian "Curly" Leyva, was not wearing his seat belt while driving. In 2007, a hit-and-run accident claimed the life of her 16-year-old child.

Those who knew Curly placed a memorial cross at the location where the accident took place, a testament to a life, a celebration of a spirit and a reminder that anyone can lose their life at any given time on our roadways.

Several L.E.A.P. youth paticipated in the video and they kicked off the white cross tour at the site of the accident that killed Curly.

Apart from their personal significance, the homemade memorials serve as gentle reminders to drive safe. The history behind these markers dates back to the 1940s and 1950s when the Arizona State Highway Patrol, now DPS, began using white crosses to mark the site of fatal car accidents.

Families and loved-ones of road-crash victims have taken up the tradition that has since been a large part of the American culture. Many countries including Australia and the U.K. have adopted the concept.

Discovery Church Pastor Steve Lummer helped to produce the video project that began more than a year ago.

"It's a great opportunity to help. It's easier to build boys and girls then to repair men and women," Lummer said.

"I enjoyed the hours we spent in the car and along the roadside," Lummer said and added that he no longer texts and drives.

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