Rita Higginbotham of Tunica County, Miss., wants to help repeal a state law that now authorizes the removal of roadside memorials.
She and her family had faithfully maintained a memorial to her daughter for 14 years that was located along Highway 61 just outside Tunica. But last Friday, July 26, the marker was removed.
MDOT to store roadside memorials for pick up
We are a nation composed of laws, laws that tell us when and who and how we are suppose to conduct ourselves in a civilized society.
But, there are no laws that can stop the heart from caring.
There are no laws to tell us when to stop grieving when a loved one is lost.
For when laws attempt to venture into those territories then can the loss of a caring civilization be far behind?
There are injustices in life that we are forced to live with. Sometimes, it's because the law gives us no choice but to do so.
"The guys that took it down, I know they probably had tears to remove a cross that they know especially of a young person," said Higginbotham, whose daughter's roadside cross was removed from the side the highway.
Nearly 14 years ago fate and a rainy Highway 61 Robbed Higginbotham of her 19-year-old daughter Heather Dawn. On the night of Dec. 12, 1999, coming back from Tunica on the way home to Lyon, the teenager, who had survived a bout with Hodgkin's Lymphoma cancer when she was 15, lost control of her car and fatally crashed into a ditch near Dubbs.
"She'd hit a pocket of water and hydroplaned. This is where it happened," Higginbotham said.
Just hours after the accident, Heather Dawn's family decided to erect a personal memorial at the site of her death.
"My husband and my father-in-law came up here the very next day (in 1999) and put this cross up and it's been the same cross all these years," Higginbotham said. "We just repainted it every year. I had angels up here and the flowers."
But, on their way to a family vacation in Branson last Friday, July 26, the Higginbothams were thrown into a state of shock as the memorial they had erected and had so lovingly maintained themselves two times a month was gone, a victim of a newly enforced Mississippi law that directs the Mississippi Department of Transportation to remove and store personal memorials or dedications on state highways.
"I got real sick to my stomach," Higginbotham said. "I told my husband, 'They've done it! They took her cross down!' It's like to me, when the cross was there with her name, people would go by and say that's where Heather died. Now it's nothing left."
In a statement this week, MDOT officials contended the roadside memorials distracted drivers and posed danger to those who would try to place them along the highway. Higginbotham insists it evokes the exact opposite reaction.
"When they see any cross that's on the side of the highway, somebody has died, they automatically slow down because they are more aware," she said. "Maybe this is bad area. Maybe, I need to slow down."
On Wednesday Higginbotham drove to the MDOT office in Tunica to retrieve the items that once adorned Heather's memorial. A half hour, later she emerged with the remnants in the back of her pickup truck, in particular the cross that bore her daughter's name, and vowing she'll lead the fight to repeal Mississippi's roadside memorial edict.
"I know she's been gone 14 years, but, it's like yesterday," she said. "Cause I still catch myself waiting for her to come home."
There are so many injustices in life and sometimes, sadly, the law can contribute to them.
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