Florida memorial marker serves as loved one's headstone
Published Tuesday, February 2, 2010Lollipops
That’s what Dan Hoolihan calls the memorial markers that dot the highways of Florida.
But it’s a term of endearment for Hoolihan, whose own experience with the little round signs is highly personal. On Dec. 18, 2005, he lost his brother David to a ATV accident at Exit 105 at I-75 and Golden Gate Parkway.
“The signs are supposed to promote safety, because when you see one you know somebody died right there. But for us, it’s a headstone, because we had him cremated and there is no headstone,” he says of the marker, tucked into the landscaping on the northwest quadrant. “There’s nothing left but that little lollipop to mark the last place he was alive; the place where he went to heaven.”
David, 41, and his girlfriend were riding ATV’s near his home late at night when he his four-wheeler hit a pile of asphalt left over from construction of the southbound exit ramp. He flew over the handlebars and was instantly killed.
While authorities suggested David had tried to jump the pile, Dan believes his brother was looking over his shoulder to see how far behind him his girlfriend was, when he accidentally hit the pile of concrete.
“He was a bit of a daredevil; he was always trying to jump everything,” says Dan. “But he was a very talented driver and motocross rider. He wasn’t trying to jump it. It was just a freak accident.”
Dan says his brother would have have been surprised in life to know that he would one day die in an ATV accident.
“He’d kick himself in the butt, looking back, that he went that way,” he says, “knowing he died doing something he loved.”
Dan heard about the memorial marker program from friends and requested the marker, which was installed at the completion of the interchange in 2008.
Today, he is devoted to beautifying the little patch around the marker with landscaping and fresh flowers in memory of his brother. He also decorates the marker for certain holidays. At Christmas, the marker featured a photo of David wearing a Christmas hat emblazoned with the words “Bah Humbug.”
“David was just huge on Christmas and Halloween,” says Dan. “Christmas wasn’t so much about presents as decorating and getting people together, so we have an annual party on Dec. 18 in his memory. It’s a comforting thing we do.”
But according to Debbie Tower, of the Florida Department of Transportation, the agency dissuades people from decorating the markers, which are placed for one year.
“It’s one of the reasons why the state has the program,” she says. “We don’t want to see anything else occur at these locations -- having people in the roadway medians poses a significant safety hazard. That’s why we require permits for any kind of work along the roadways.”
Dan said he was not aware of the one-year marker requirements.
“A year isn’t long enough to leave a marker up, because they really are for the families They’re so far off the road it’s not like anyone can read them,” Dan says “But, I wish people would clean up after themselves, you know, pick up the raggedy teddy bears and faded flowers. It’s okay to decorate the signs, as long as people don’t abuse it and it’s not a distraction to drivers.“I like visiting the marker, because it’s the closest I’ll ever get to where David was last alive.
I take comfort from that little sign. If the state takes it down, I’d be really upset; I’d pay whatever it takes to keep it there,” Dan says in a choked voice. “He touched a lot of people’s lives. He touched the hearts of everybody he met; he just had a way about him. He was way too young to die. We all miss him to death.”