Some say the markers have worn out their welcome and should stay down. Relatives disagree.
By JAY CRIDLIN
Published September 3, 2004
Over the past three years, the family of Jane Mark and Britten Shores has lost its patience with the government.
The feeling, it appears, is now mutual.
Mark, 51, and her son Shores, 14, who died in an August 2001 car crash at the intersection of John Moore Road and Bloomingdale Avenue, have since been memorialized at the site by a giant handmade sign featuring regular updates on the vehicular homicide case that stemmed from their deaths.
Last week the county decided the sign had been up long enough. The 6-foot-wide sign was removed Aug. 24, three years and two days after the crash. The county took down another replacement sign Monday.
Lisa Leatherwood, Mark's sister, couldn't believe the county could be so callous.
"To me, it's disrespect to Britten and Jane," Leatherwood said. "Why can't we have our signs? We've lost our two loved ones. We can't even have a sign with a picture on it that tells about what's going on, so people don't forget?"
Leatherwood and the county reached an agreement this week that would allow the sign to stay up until October. But after that, county officials say they will enforce the law.
The sign has been a point of contention practically ever since it went up.
For a time, the sign was no different than most other memorial markers, with flowers and photos of Mark and Shores. Then a phone number to call was added for people who might have witnessed the crash.
In recent months, the sign has updated drivers on the progress of the case against Michael Hollash, charged with speeding through a red light and slamming into Mark's car. The trial has been delayed more than 30 times in the past three years. In recent months, the sign has contained such phrases as "No trial, no justice, no closure."
Out of respect for victims' families, Hillsborough County typically allows handmade memorial markers to stay up on county right of ways for several months to a year.
Last year, Hollash's mother, Saria Garvy, requested that the county remove the handmade sign, as well as two circular memorial signs. County officials complied but the ensuing outcry from the victims' friends and family prompted them to reinstall the signs for one more year.
That year ended on Aug. 22, the third anniversary of the crash. The very next day, Chris Rodems, president of the nearby Camelot Woods Homeowners Association, e-mailed the county to ask why the sign had not been removed.
Before the county could respond, Rodems, an attorney who has represented several homeowners in fights to preserve the look of the intersection, took matters into his own hands and tore down the sign.
"This is an illegal sign," Rodems said. "They take down garage sale signs and they take down political signs in the right of way. Why is this one getting special treatment?"
The county agreed.
"It's really changed from a memorial to a political statement," said county spokesman Steve Valdez. "An activist campaign can't take place in the right of way."
Code enforcement officials say the sign should be permitted through Oct. 14. Hillsborough code investigator Andy Pfeiffer said his office doesn't encourage citizens to remove signs in the public right of way, but that violators are rarely cited. However, Leatherwood could pursue petty theft charges against Rodems for taking the sign.
Valdez and Rodems say they sympathize with the family, and Valdez said it's unlikely the county will issue any citations. Still, the law is the law.
"I don't know if (Hollash) is guilty of a crime or not," Rodems said. "But I do know that the corner shouldn't be the bulletin board for people that are angry at (state attorney) Mark Ober's office because the case hasn't been prosecuted."
Leatherwood said she planned to keep putting up signs, even if it meant nailing one to the top of a telephone pole or hiring a security guard to watch for code enforcement crews.
"It's not just my sign, it's everybody's sign," she said. "It's a sign to everybody about what's going on and how justice works.
"It's discouraging, but I'm not going to give up," she said. "I'll make another sign. I've got plenty of wood."