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Citing safety concerns, DOT to remove neon heart tribute on Egan Drive

Posted: September 16, 2012 - 12:12am
Paint on the pavement of Egan Drive and 12th Street marks the spot where Larry "Brandon" Blatnick, Jr. died in a motorcycle/vehicle collision on August 14, 2012. The Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is asking for people not to paint on the roads and limits on roadside memorials for fear of causing a distraction for other drivers.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Paint on the pavement of Egan Drive and 12th Street marks the spot where Larry "Brandon" Blatnick, Jr. died in a motorcycle/vehicle collision on August 14, 2012. The Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is asking for people not to paint on the roads and limits on roadside memorials for fear of causing a distraction for other drivers.

The swirling neon hearts painted on the surface of Egan Drive near West 12th Street, the site of a fatal motorcycle a month ago, will soon be painted over.

Citing safety concerns, the state Department of Transportation is planning on covering up the hand-scrawled tribute as soon as the road dries from the rain, according to the DOT’s Southeast Region Director, Albert H. Clough.

Clough said his office has received several complaints about the anonymously drawn eye-catching commemoration, reporting it was a distraction to drivers. The DOT’s safety traffic engineers then deemed it unsafe due to its proximity to a busy intersection and the high number of drivers observed “rubbernecking” instead of paying attention to the roadway, Clough said.

Clough says he has the deepest sympathy for the motorcyclist’s grieving family members and friends, but that the worse thing that could happen is if the impromptu memorial, which sprung up just hours after the Aug. 14 crash, caused another accident.

Phone calls to family members of Larry Brandon Blatnick Jr., 27, who died in the crash, went unreturned Friday.

The corner memorial itself began with flowers in vases, balloons and a black cross, but grew larger with time to encompass a flower planter box, a traffic cone, and a bicycle. The multi-colored fluorescent paint appeared on the roadway about a week or two after the accident, depicting two hearts and tear drops, after rain had washed away chalk messages on the sidewalk.

Clough says that state statute acknowledges the right for grieving family members and friends to create temporary roadside memorial, but that memorials are not allowed to be “an attractive nuisance” that could create a hazard for drivers by distracting their attention from the roadway.

“We are responsible for keeping the highways safe, and we have to keep the distractions down to a minimum,” Clough said in a phone interview Friday.

DOT maintenance staff removed items from the memorial earlier this week and are keeping them in DOT facilities, should someone claim them. The department also posted a sign at the site explaining the statutory guidelines, DOT contact information and other options for roadside memorials.

This is the first time Clough said he could recall a roadside memorial being taken down due to safety concerns.

There have been 27 reported crashes at the intersection of Egan and West 12th from 2000 to 2009, according to DOT statistics. Regional safety engineers say that is not considered a high amount for a nine-year period, according to DOT Assistant Chief Communications Officer Jeremy Woodrow.

Only one of those 27 crashes were considered a “major crash,” which means it required transportation to the hospital; 11 were minor injury crashes; and the remaining 15 were property-damages only, meaning fender-benders.

Twenty-one of the 27 were “angle crashes,” meaning the accident occurred when one of the vehicles was turning onto 12th street from Egan. None of those were motorcycle related, although one involved a pedestrian.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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