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County wants memorial removed

By Staff | Jun 29, 2009

Is it government regulation of grief or a concern for public safety?

On May 20, 2007, 20-year-old Josh Johnson of Blue Earth was killed when he lost control of his pickup truck along a curve on County State Aid Highway 6.

Shortly after that, family members and several friends erected a roadside memorial as a tribute to him.

That was two years ago.

Now, the county is asking Craig Johnson to remove his son’s memorial.

“When I read the letter it brought back all those feelings, it almost killed me again,” says Johnson.

In the letter dated June 16, Faribault County engineer John McDonald wrote that county officials are sympathetic to what happened to Josh, but safety issues must be addressed.

“The memorial created is a hazard to the traveling public and should be removed,” says McDonald. “I’m sure the last thing anybody wishes is another accident at this location due to a motorist looking at what has been placed in the road right of way.”

Johnson has talked with McDonald and was told the issue would be discussed with two commissioners.

“It’s going to stay. I told him I’m not going to take it down. I’m going to fight for it. If the commissioners want to talk to me, I’m right here,” says Johnson.

Johnson says his son’s memorial is not the only one in the county and wonders why their’s is being singled out.

County officials say the other two are just white crosses.

“I feel real sorry for the Johnsons, no one should have to go through what they went through,” says McDonald.

Josh’s older brother, Matt Johnson, says the memorial is the same size it has always been and that rock and a brick border were recently added to make maintenance easier.

He says he doesn’t think the memorial distracts motorists because it is located several feet down from the road.

“It’s where his body was found and the last spot where he was probably alive,” Matt adds.

Family and friends help maintain the site, making sure it is clear of trash and the grass is mowed.

“This needs to be left alone. I don’t think they have anything better to do than gripe about this,” says Matt. “I don’t see what the big deal is.”

The memorial is located in Pilot Grove Township, an area repre-sented by District 2 Commis-sioner Butch Erichsrud.

“I haven’t gotten any complaints or been contacted about it,” he says. “It doesn’t bother me if it’s there.”

Whether it distracts motorists or not is a matter of opinion, says the commissioner.

Craig says the memorial is a reminder to motorists that they need to reduce their speed while going around the curve.

“If it slows one person down then it’s doing its job,” he says.

“If it reminds anybody to buckle up, then it is working and worth it,” adds Matt.

Erichsrud says he’s been told the matter also is a legal issue.

“I do know it’s illegal to put something in the county’s right of way,” he says.

Erichsrud speaks from firsthand experience.

When he was a seed salesman, Erichsrud was told by state and county officials any advertising signs needed to be located on private property.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen or if we’ll even talk about it as a board,” Erichsrud says.

Matt says he’s prepared to circulate a petition if that’s what it takes to help save the memorial.

“I know I can get at least 500 signatures if I need to,” he says.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has guidelines for when memorials should be removed:

• They interfere with routine maintenance operations;

• They impact the free flow of traffic;

• They do not meet safety criteria — physical or visual — within the clear zone.