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A sign of deterrence

Dale Callaham was returning from a night at a Stuart Anderson’s Black Angus restaurant in 1994 when his friend William Miller, who officials said was intoxicated, missed a sharp curve on Central Valley Road. The car they were riding in flew 35 feet and hit a tree.

Callaham, 29, was killed, and the next day his friends posted a roadside memorial to honor him. The marker stood for years, but one day county workers removed it.

“I thought it was a big mistake,” said Vernon Metz, a neighbor who lives across the street from the accident scene. “I thought it was a great deterrent — there have been so many accidents out there you can’t count them.”

The removal of such memorials set off a debate which culminated the county commissioners approving a roadside memorial policy in November 2001. Family members now can purchase a $359 county sign with a choice of five safety-oriented messages and the name of the person being memorialized.

On Thursday, Feb. 28, a dozen of Callaham’s friends and family members gathered at the corner of Anna and Central Valley roads to post a new county-approved sign.

Jeff Jahns, the deputy prosecuting attorney who worked on behalf of the Callaham case, was in the audience.

“There are some cases you never forget as an attorney, and this is one of them,” Jahns said.

The sign reads “Please Don’t Drink and Drive, In memory of Dale R. Callaham.”

“I feel like this is a little victory. It might save someone else’s life,” said Monica Burgess, who was a close friend of Callaham’s.

Impromptu victim memorials — which often include crosses, flowers, balloons and photos — are a distraction to drivers, county officials contend. County employees began to take down some of the memorials more than a year ago, and word spread quickly.

Marsha Masters, president of the local Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) chapter, spearheaded an effort to push county lawmakers to write a policy for the markers.

“We thought it was silly. This is a way people grieve,” Masters said.

County officials were resistant at first, Masters said, and feared the signs would multiply along the roadsides.

Eventually, a compromise was reached. Masters said she likes the new royal-blue signs.

“I think they are a nice color, and they are more visible,” Masters said.

But the approved markers are expensive, Masters added. She wonders what will happen to them when they are removed — which is within the county’s power.

“Once they take the signs down, what happens to them?” Masters asked. “Victims’ (families) paid for them. Are they recycled? Do they get them back?”

Similar signs are popping up around the county, but neighbor Pat Metz just hopes the one on Central Valley will remain standing.

“It’s right in the line of fire,” she said.

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