When she heard that the Virginia Department of Transportation wanted to take down roadside memorials to people who had died in auto crashes, Joyce Guthrie fired off an angry e-mail.
"Four years ago, my 16-year-old son, Joshua, died in a car accident on Route 9 in Virginia," she wrote to VDOT. "To this day, a small white cross marks the place of his fatal accident. Many people have commented to me that they drive by the cross regularly and it reminds them of the frailty of human life and the need for them to drive safely.
"How in the world can your program for sanitized, two-year markers begin to influence drivers the way one roadside memorial tended by a grieving family does?"
Guthrie, who lives near Waterford, urged her family and friends to send similar e-mails and was relieved when her sister received a reply from VDOT spokeswoman Tamara Neale.
"For now, VDOT will not move forward with the program, but the agency will continue its current practice regarding roadside memorials," Neale wrote. That policy is to remove memorials only when they have deteriorated or pose a safety hazard.
The small white cross and teddy bear that Guthrie maintains in memory of her son will remain at the spot of his death east of the intersection with Route 267. Joshua Guthrie lost his concentration for a moment and crossed the center line on the evening of Oct. 25, 1998, causing the crash that took his life and that of Loudoun County Deputy A. Frank Frye, 74. His mother now speaks about safe driving to teenagers before they become licensed drivers.
Between the time that Guthrie learned of the new rule and Neale sent her e-mail, the General Assembly passed a budget including an amendment that prohibits state funds from being used "for the design, production, installation or maintenance of roadside memorials, plaques and other devices" in memory of people who have died in car crashes.
"It's a shame when the government has to reign itself in," Guthrie said. "But at least it's not going to happen, and families can continue to put up roadside memorials."
Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), whose son was also killed in a car crash, said he suggested the provision to delegates working on budget amendments in conference committee.
"I did not think that the regulations they proposed were appropriate to really deal with the situation of grief and the expression of love that people have for relatives or friends who have been killed on the public roads of Virginia," Marshall said in an interview. "VDOT should have simply issued guidelines for safety."
Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) could change the amendment, but his spokeswoman, Ellen Qualls, said he would probably "leave that budget language alone."
"That is an example of legislation gone awry," Qualls said, "to spend $250,000 of state money on something that families wanted to do themselves."
Neale said VDOT employees crafted the rule, which the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved Feb. 20 in response to a law passed by the General Assembly. That law required the board to govern "installation, maintenance, and removal" of roadside memorials.
That legislation was sponsored by Del. Robert D. "Bobby" Orrock Sr. (R-Spotsylvania), who said there have been several large memorials in his district that could have caused crashes.