Roadside memorials: Fitting tributes or distracting annoyance?

Nadine Kalinauskas
Good News Writer
Daily Brew

A grieving father hired a private investigator to find out who was repeatedly destroying the roadside memorial erected in his son's honour.

Tony Jasinski's 17-year-old son, Thomas, was killed in April 2009 in a horrific car crash. In Thomas' honour, the Jasinskis erected a simple roadside memorial along Highway 403 and Glen Erin Drive in Mississauga: flowers, a cross, a model angel.

Since June of this year, that memorial has been destroyed 11 times, the Toronto Star reports.

Jasinski hired Matthew Romanick, a former police sergeant and president of Star Quality Investigations, to watch over the site and find out who is responsible for the vandalism. Romanick caught a hooded man on film dismantling the tribute with a hammer and stuffing the artifacts into a yellow shopping bag.

Romanick approached the man who told him he didn't approve of roadside memorials.

"He told me, 'I don't agree with this always being here…I don't agree with people putting up shrines. They have no right to do it,'" Romanick told the Toronto Sun.

"I would say he was angry, definitely," Romanick told the Toronto Star.

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Romanick, who took on the case pro bono, gave the OPP's Port Credit division the footage and the man's license plate number. A police spokesperson said police don't take third-party complaints and only respond to those filed by the owners of the damaged property. In this case, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation owns the highway.

"We have four kids," Romanick, who is co-owner of the agency with his wife Adrianne Fekete, told the Toronto Sun, adding that they will be making a donation to a scholarship fund in Thomas' name. "This story touches us. This is one of those instances where we felt we would offer our services for the family."

Jasinski hasn't given up his fight to honour his son:

"I don't intend to have a shrine," he said. "A little picture, a little tree growing right by the pole, that's all I want."

Jasinski isn't the only parent anguished by a destroyed memorial.

Nathan Sharpe of Grande Prairie, Alberta, lost his 26-year-old son in a motorcycle accident in West Kelowna last summer. The memorial Sharpe built at the crash site was repeatedly vandalized until he anchored a 2-metre-tall cross topped with his son's helmet in concrete. Nearby residents complained it was distasteful, so Sharpe chose to dismantle it rather than see it wrecked again.

In Manitoba last January, a harsh handwritten note was attached to a teen's memorial, asking that family and friends "please remove your stuff," even though the family had already obtained permission from the Highways Department to erect the crosses, CBC News reported,

"You don't pay the taxes and this isn't your property," the sign stated in part. "Put it in your own yard! Your kid isn't here."

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In Wyoming, vandals twice destroyed the roadside tree planted in honour of 9-year-old Kian Hamilton, who was hit by a bus while crossing the road.

"We are just really disappointed to think that someone has taken the time to kick and destroy the tree once again," Kian's mother, Gina Hamilton, told the Express Advocate. "We put it there because it was something beautiful that everyone could enjoy."

In 2008, a study out of the University of Calgary found "the presence of roadside memorials can actually make people drive more carefully in some instances" and emphasized that no study has yet to find any negative safety effects associated with allowing roadside memorials.

The Penticton Herald reports that most municipalities allow roadside memorials for up to two years after an accident — as long as the memorial isn't in the way of traffic or pedestrian flow.

This isn't the case everywhere, however. Numerous American states have bans or conditions in place regarding roadside shrines.

Should roadside memorials be allowed? And if so, should the government enact legislation that protects them from vandals?