LAWTON, OK (KSWO) - Crosses on the sides of roads are often created as makeshift memorial sites to mark the spot where a loved one died, but what you may not know is that most of those items are placed illegally.
The family of Michael Fike, who died in a car accident on Rogers Lane May 2015, say a small cross and other items had been taken. ODOT said they did in fact pick up the Fike families items, but that it was not with any malicious intent and they were only doing their job.
ODOT workers see these memorial crosses a lot and are forced to try and work around them, until they become a problem. What people don't know is there is something called the "right of way" that belongs to the state and they are obligated by the state to pick them up. ODOT Division 7 maintenance engineer Tracy Terrill explained that the right of way is the land surrounding the highway, and it can go all the way to the fence. Fike's family thought they were in the clear, but the fence line is still considered right of way.
"In most cases, the fence line is on the right of way line or slightly on private property. And most of our state highway's fence is the responsibility of the private owner," Terrill said.
Terrill says ODOT is only doing their job to look out for the public's safety. Things placed on the side of roads can distract drivers and even cause more severe wrecks if hit.
"Most of the time, if it's not a direct hazard, we'll allow them to remain for a time, but when it comes time that we need to mow the right of way, or it's been a while, then a lot of times we'll either remove them, or we'll move them back to the fence," Terrill said.
Terrill says often times family members will pull to the side of the road to visit the memorial sites, and that can put them in danger of high-speed traffic.
"We want people to be safe out there," Terrill said. "I would hate for there to be an accident or someone to get hurt visiting a memorial where they had already had someone killed. That would just be piling insult on top of injury and not something we would like to see."
Terrill did have some advice for those who plan to memorialize their loved one.
"Keep the items small and something that if a car or a vehicle did hit it, it wouldn't damage the vehicle or it wouldn't become a spear that could go through a windshield," Terrill said. "And if they do need to visit it, make sure that they get as far off the side of the road and don't visit during high traffic times."
Terrill says if you do plan on placing an item on the side of the road, try and place it as close as possible to the fence and as far away from the road. He also said, if items are taken away by ODOT, you can call their office or go by and pick them up.
The Fike family was able to get their items back. They plan to get permission from the land owner in that area to place those items on private property.