Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre McIvor: It's memorial madness

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Tracey Gibb with a plaque she would like placed at the spot where her son, Joshua Bennie, died. Photo / Hawkes Bay Today
Tracey Gibb with a plaque she would like placed at the spot where her son, Joshua Bennie, died. Photo / Hawkes Bay Today

Whenever I see a white cross on the side of the road while I'm driving, it's a powerful reminder to take care.

I become hyper-aware of the road conditions, my driving and the driving of motorists around me. The crosses are a symbol of the dreadful price people pay when drivers, cyclists and even pedestrians are cavalier about their responsibilities as road users.

If you make a serious error of judgment you, or someone else, can easily end up with your name on the next white cross.

I have every sympathy for Taradale mum Tracey Gibb, who has been battling the Napier City Council for two years for permission to maintain a permanent roadside memorial to her son. Twelve-year-old Joshua Bennie died after being struck by a van on his way to school.

The family has struggled to deal with their awful loss and one way was to have a roadside memorial at the spot where he was killed. Flowers, butterflies and soft toys were attached to a street light by his friends after he died and for the past two years, the family has been maintaining the memorial.

The custom of creating roadside memorials is worldwide and is believed to have originated from the Hispanic people of the American southwest. Traditionally, these crosses were created when pallbearers stopped for a rest as they were carrying a coffin from the church to the cemetery. At the point where the men laid the coffin on the ground, by the side of the road, the women would fashion a cross out of twigs or plant flowers as a memorial.

Tracey felt her memorial to Joshua would be more than just a means of remembering him. It would serve as a reminder to Joshua's classmates at the nearby school and to passing motorists to be extra vigilant.

The memorial would be a tangible reminder of the devastation that can occur from one split second of inattention. The coroner found that Joshua had swerved into the path of the van, and that although the driver wasn't speeding and had braked and swerved, he was powerless to avoid the collision.

If I were driving and saw a memorial to a child as I approached the school, you can bet your bottom dollar I'd be extra cautious, aware that at any moment a child could do something unpredictable.

However, a nearby resident complained to the council on the basis that she didn't want to see the memorial every day. And acting on that one complaint the council decided the memorial had to go, despite a petition with more than 800 signatures of people wanting the memorial to stay.

The council suggested that a plaque in Joshua's memory be placed on the school wall, but Tracey and her family said the school wall was too low to make a difference.

That's the point of the family's memorial to Joshua - it's not about glorifying their son and ensuring his memory lives on. They're trying to stop another accident happening.

Kids who see flowers and butterflies attached to a power pole will want to know why they're there. Kids who see a plaque on a wall will walk on by and disregard the message. Motorists won't see the plaque at all.

However, the council has decided the roadside memorial must go and the mayor has requested that any tribute to Joshua must now be on private land.

I accept that memorials shouldn't get out of hand and mustn't become road hazards. But, far more than expensively produced television commercials do, simple white crosses remind me of the devastation wreaked on a family when we don't take care on the road.

- Herald on Sunday

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