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Who do those crosses along state highways memorialize?

They are silent reminders of the dangers on state highways, marking the spot where bad weather, poor judgment or a series of unlucky events took someone's life.

While roadside memorials help relatives remember their loved ones, they sometimes prove too painful for others and are a sensitive issue for Oregon Department of Transportation crews, who maintain state highways.

One of the area's largest memorials is a wooden cross erected along a hillside above the northbound lanes of Interstate 5 between Talent and Ashland. It marks the spot where 22-year-old Eagle Point resident Gregory Allen Horn died in a motorcycle crash.

At about 2:35 a.m. on Sept. 3, 2005, Horn was riding his Suzuki motorcycle northbound at a reported high rate of speed, police said. He was rounding a curve near Milepost 17 when he crashed into the back of a Ford Tempo. Horn was thrown from the motorcycle and pronounced dead at the scene.

Former classmate Lucas Schauffler erected the cross with help from Horn's family within days of the wreck. Eighteen months later, a baseball cap still rests atop the large cross while a smaller wooden cross declares, "We miss you Horndog."

"Greg's cross is on that hill right above where Greg was lying after the accident," said Kim Horn, Gregory's father.

Gregory Horn was a semester away from graduating with a fire science degree. His memorial at the Eagle Point High School gymnasium drew some 1,500 visitors. The roadside memorial, Horn's father said, is a lasting tribute to his son and, he hopes, a reminder for passing motorists to drive safely.

The family put careful thought into how far uphill to erect the memorial, to avoid roadway maintenance crews and to be sure not to create a safety hazard.

ODOT Regional Manager John Vial said roadside memorials are a sensitive issue for road workers to navigate.

"On one hand, we have families who want to memorialize their loved one. But on the other, we have families that have called in because the crosses bothered them, maybe they've had family killed in an accident and they struggle with having to see these crosses as a reminder," Vial said.

"There's also the church and state debate. It's on a public right of way and it's a cross. "¦ At the same time, if we go out and yank them out of the ground as soon as they're placed, we struggle whether that's the place to be."

A memorial on Highway 238 marks the area where 18-year-olds Kyle Charles Ross, David John Bergin and Jonathan Marshall Thibeault died on June 20, 2006, just 10 days after high school graduation. Ross had lost control of his 1994 BMW 740 sedan while traveling at least 80 mph near Ruch. The teens had been camping in the area and had consumed alcohol before the crash.

Vial said sensitivity was key in dealing with memorials.

"It's a very tough issue for us because you're dealing with the loss of a family member, and that is a very emotional experience," Vial said.

"If you were to look at it as a black-and-white scenario, those kinds of markers are not allowed on the right of way. What we do is we say we will allow them to stay but we will remove them in the course of routine maintenance if they are in the way."

Vial added, "The only time we remove them otherwise is if they pose a hazard to the traveling public."

When removed, memorial objects are brought to ODOT maintenance headquarters in Central Point and saved for families to retrieve, Vial said.

After nearly five years, Rogue River resident Julia White is pleased that a memorial erected for her mother remains.

Marcia Jean White was killed on Sept. 4, 2002, when she drove into the back of a Joseph Winans Furniture delivery truck stopped in traffic because of another crash on Interstate 5.

"A bunch of her friends put it up there right after she got killed," Julia White said.

White said she hopes those passing by realize that something tragic happened at the site of the wooden cross.

"I guess, mostly, we hope the cross being there will remind people to pay attention to what they're doing "¦ and to just be careful," said White.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.

A weathered photo of a young man marks an unidentified white cross placed near milepost 18 on Interstate 5. 3/5