Grieving teens create memorial, surface problem on Joppa Road

April 09, 1999|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

An impromptu vigil for a teen-ager killed in a car crash has left its mark on Joppa Road -- a poignant memorial in spray paint that has prompted at least one citizen complaint and puzzled the Baltimore County roads department about how to remove it.

Nearly 100 grieving teen-agers gathered Tuesday night in the 3700 block of E. Joppa Road to remember Shawn Polston, 18, who was killed Monday night when his car crashed into a utility pole, police said. Police said speed, alcohol and driver error were factors in the single-car accident, which also injured a passenger.

The teen-agers took traffic cones left by utility workers around the damaged pole, and used them to direct cars away from the accident site. They tacked a picture of Polston, flowers, candles and stuffed animals on and around the pole, and spray-painted messages on the pole.

They also wrote dozens of messages of love and remembrance in brightly colored spray paint across three lanes of the road, the sidewalk and part of a private driveway.

"I've seen hearts painted on pavement, but I've never seen an entire pavement painted like that," said Charles R. "Dick" Harrison, chief of the county's bureau of highways. The messages covered about 100 feet in both eastbound lanes on Joppa, he said.

The teen-agers had finished painting their memorial messages when police officers arrived in response to a 911 call Tuesday night from an area resident, said county police spokesman Bill Toohey.

"There were 70 to 90 grieving teen-agers -- crying, grieving and hugging," he said. "They had taken traffic cones from the BGE pole and put them in the far right lane."

After the officers arrived, Toohey said, the crowd dispersed without incident in less than 20 minutes. No one was charged, he said.

But the memorial remains, and it could be hazardous to motorists, Harrison said. A painted surface can be slippery, and it poses an unusual problem for road workers to clean up.

"Typically, we do have a policy of removing graffiti as soon as we see it," he said. "But typically, we don't see graffiti on pavement."

Graffiti usually are found on bridges and walls -- places where cars don't go -- and the county usually sandblasts and repaints, or just paints over the markings.

Neither option is ideal for pavement, Harrison said. Painting decreases traction; sandblasting could damage the roadway. Something similar to sealer used on private driveways is being considered, he said.

Pub Date: 4/09/99

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