Fatal Wreck Marker Forced Down By Ordinance After Complaint
By TIM MONZINGO
The stretch of asphalt bearing the name Lem Pool Road just north of Lindale has been a source of agony for the Voyles family.
In 2001, 22-year-old Jason Voyles died when his vehicle struck a tree as he traveled down that stretch of pavement, also known as County Road 4119. Ten years and two days later to the day, his cousin, Karrie Ray Voyles and her friend Jasmine Pruitt died on the same stretch of road, within sight of the location of the crash that killed Jason.
The 14-year-old girls were in the car with a 25-year-old driver when he lost control of his vehicle and slammed into another tree, killing all three.
Less than a day after the accident, the tree where the girls died was covered in wooden crosses, necklaces and mementos to the two girls. Memorials to the girls are painted onto the blacktop.
On Thursday, though, citing a county ordinance on the books since 1971, road crews removed the items and cut down the tree that had become a memorial to the girls.
Precinct 3 County Commissioner Terry Phillips said that as much as he didn't like it, he didn't have a choice.
"The bottom line, the county's got a policy basically that there's no structures or anything in the county right-of-way," Phillips said. "The county usually just tries to overlook it unless there's complaints, and we got several complaints on that up there."
The ordinance states that objects or markers cannot be erected on county-operated right-of-ways, according to the minutes from the commissioner's meeting form 1971,
The tree and mementos were removed from the site and taken to the county barn, where family members retrieved them. Karrie's parents took a segment of the tree top, not the piece they wanted because someone else, whose name they do not know, took the section that the vehicle struck.
"I hated the tree, but I wanted it," Delayne Voyles, Karrie's mother, said. "We just don't understand why we can't put anything out there and leave it."
Since the memorial started, items have been removed numerous times and even damaged.
The cross Jasmine's mother Michelle Glasco made, which measured about 6 feet tall, was nailed to the tree high up. Anthony Voyles, Karrie's father, said using rope and a ladder, they hoisted the marker into the air and drove it into the tree with long railroad spikes.
Phillips said while trying to remove it, part of the cross broke. Rather than risk the employee's safety trying to free the rest of it on an unstable ladder, they opted to use a cutting torch to cut the nails and pull it off.
That torch burned part of the cross and singed a picture of one of the girls.
Phillip said he was apologetic that the memorials were damaged, but there was nothing intentional about the damage.
Voyles said he wished the county had contacted them so they could have removed the items instead of the county.
The complaints that caused the county to take action were aired by Linda Billings, a long-time resident of the road.
Mrs. Billings said it took her nearly eight years to recover from the death of her husband, who died in 1997, and she understands the pain the Voyles and Jasmine's mother are going through.
The reason she aired concerns about the memorial site, she said, is she thinks their grief is misplaced.
"I do feel strongly that their attention towards trying to hold onto the memory of their daughters is misdirected at trying to put it at the tree or their death sites," Mrs. Billings said. "This is not a cemetery. This is where I live."
She said in the year since the accident, she has not been able to rent the property near the memorial.
Mrs. Billings also criticized those who drive too fast on narrow country roads.
She said in her years living on the road, she's never seen it as dangerous unless a driver is breaking the law.
"It's depressing to me to drive by that every day and be reminded ... that those kids killed themselves for their joyriding," she said. "I shouldn't have to live with that."
Mrs. Voyles said unsafe driving may have been a factor in both accidents that killed her family members, but the Voyles and Mrs. Glasco hope the cross and mementos would serve as a reminder to slow down and be safe on what they consider a dangerous road.
Voyles said he'd like to see something done to the road to make it safer. The three parents all said they want the hill leveled to avoid future incidents.
The Voyles said since the issues over the site started, they've heard from numerous community members who knew Karrie who want to see something done at the site.
Mrs. Voyles said they've considered using a wood-burning tool to add the girls names and birthdates to the stump, which is angled up and shows a face to the road. She said they're considering whether a permanent memorial could be erected at the site that cannot legally be removed.
Phillips said he wants to see something done as well and regrets that his hands were tied by the ordinance.
"It's one of them tough situations that you've just got to follow the ordinance," he said. "If they want to work with us ... there might be other avenues to do something."
The families haven't settled on a solution to the problem, and right now Mrs. Voyles said they're just waiting to see what exactly it is they can do at the site of Karrie's and Jasmine's deaths.
"Really, I don't know what we can do," she said. "I just want something there for our daughters."