Sign eases a mother's pain

Memorials: A street sign honoring a Baltimore teen-ager is one of many throughout the city that remember `special individuals, places and events.'

April 05, 2004|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

For months after her teen-age daughter died in a car accident at East Oliver Street and Broadway last July, Gina Gant couldn't bring herself to go near the intersection.

Her daughter, Tiffany Gant, had just celebrated her 18th birthday when the car she was riding in collided with a police cruiser. The Dunbar High School honors graduate had planned to attend Coppin State College and become a criminal defense attorney.

But in November, something else happened at the intersection that helped to ease her mother's pain a bit. A bright red-and-white street sign proclaiming "Tiffany Gant Way" went up, marking the corner in her daughter's memory.

"I'm thankful for the sign," Gant said last week, sitting inside her Parkside Drive home. "The part that I dreaded was to go back up on that site."

The sign honoring Tiffany's memory is one of about 180 such street signs that have been erected around the city over the past 20 years. The signs, intended to be temporary, honor "special individuals, places and events that have affected Baltimore's communities," said city spokesman Rick Abbruzzese.

Tiffany's sign went up as a result of efforts by her friends, who wrote to City Council members and called the mayor's office on her behalf.

Danielle Brice, a Dunbar graduate and Coppin freshman, was among the letter writers.

"I know I wrote over 30 letters, and I know I called the mayor's office three or four times one day," Brice said. "It's weird seeing the sign up because of the fact that she's not here, but I feel good because it shows that people do care and recognize what happened."

The street sign program was begun in May 1984, when the Rev. Robert Petti Lane was honored with a commemorative sign at Claremont Avenue and South Dean Street, Abbruzzese said. It costs about $50 to make and erect each sign, Abbruzzese said. They are created by city Department of Public Works crews and installed by workers in the city's Department of Transportation.

Confusion over the signs led to a moratorium in April 2002. "They were causing some confusion with city firefighters trying to get to scenes," Abbruzzese said. Sometimes when people report fires or other emergencies, they give the ceremonial street name as opposed to the official, recognized name, he said.

However, despite the moratorium, four more signs have been erected. Besides Tiffany's, they include signs in honor of former East Baltimore deli owner Seymour Attman and Marciana Ringo, a slain 8-year-old girl.

Before the moratorium, it used to be easy to get a street renamed with a ceremonial sign. Former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke didn't even know a neighbor had requested Kurt L. Schmoke Way, until it was presented to him at a block party in his Ashburton neighborhood.

Other ceremonial signs

There's also Cal Ripken Way, which aptly adorns an orange and black sign, Corn Beef Row and Clarence Du Burns Lane, named after the city's first African-American mayor.

Now, however, it's not nearly as easy to get a sign up, Abbruzzese said. And because of the moratorium, the signs have to be approved by the mayor's office, said Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young.

Young said the signs are supposed to stay up for 120 days, but he thinks they should be left up indefinitely if they don't interfere with emergency responders.

"Normally they stay up until somebody complains they don't want them up anymore, [then] they come down," said Young, who requested the sign for Tiffany and whose daughter was friends with the Dunbar graduate.

Gina Gant says she was deeply touched by the actions of Tiffany's friends. The fatal crash, she says, has left a huge void in her life -- Tiffany was the elder of her two daughters -- and a bitter feeling in her heart toward the Police Department.

Collision with cruiser

The cruiser that collided with the car she rode in was driven by Baltimore police Officer Kevin Leary. Police said he wasn't speeding or responding to a call, and was not required to have on the cruiser's lights and siren. The Honda Tiffany was in was driven by her friend, former Dunbar High School basketball standout Maurice Barksdale Jr. The Sun's high school Player of the Year last year, he now attends Blinn College in Brenham, Texas.

After the crash, police determined that Barksdale failed to yield the right of way to Leary. Still, Gant was bothered, she said, that Leary never apologized to her.

"I feel like he could have apologized, sent a card or something," she said.

Gant, a research assistant at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said she isn't sure what she'll do with her daughter's sign when it is taken down, but she said she will treasure it.

Life without Tiffany has been hard, she said.

"Sometimes I tell myself that she's just away in college," Gant said, pausing to wipe tears. "She was my best friend."

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