Crosses, signs, and teddy bears along Oregon roadsides have produced an unexpected riptide of emotion and debate. The controversy involves the right of individuals to erect private memorials on public rights of way adjacent to the sites of fatal car accidents.

The issue surfaced last fall after Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) workers routinely removed crosses on a public roadway near Salem. The crosses commemorated the deaths of two teenagers. Jeremy Haddock, an 18-year-old survivor of the accident, put up a new cross and aired his complaint in the local newspaper. "These are universal markings that are used all around the world," Haddock said in a local news report.

He believes roadside memorials are part of grieving and that they warn drivers of the dangers of the road.

Other Oregonians interpret removal of roadside memorials as an antireligious act. But, says ODOT maintenance engineer Doug Tindall, "Our policy is to remove anything that's illegal in the course of routine maintenance or if it poses a safety hazard."

State highway regulations say that signs or markers—whether memorials, yard sale signs, or election placards—on public roads are illegal and eventually will be removed.

Tindall says ODOT regularly receives calls regarding roadside memorials. Most callers want displays removed because they don't want continual reminders of someone's death in a traffic accident.

The debate sharpened in January when several signs—emblazoned with "666," a black cross with a red slash through it, and a skull and crossbones—cropped up anonymously along roads in Marion and Polk counties. ODOT removed them without comment.

State Senator Marylin Shannon, who supports roadside memorials, said she has received more than 200 ...

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