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Law enforcement, businesses team up for memorials

Posted: March 13, 2017 11:03 p.m.
Updated: March 14, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews (center) speaks during a press conference Friday to announce the launch of a new program to install crosses at traffic fatality sites along Kershaw County roadways. Kershaw County Coroner David West (second from left) holds the first such cross -- marked with the name of the county’s first 2017 traffic fatality, Matthew Boland, who died Jan. 1 on I-20, with Bolaond’s father, Eric (second from right) in attendance. Also on hand, from the S.C. Highway Patrol are 1st Sgt. Mark Danbeck (far left) and Sgt. John McWhorter (far right).

For many years, drivers along any number of roadways, including I-20 in Kershaw County, have seen roadside memorials erected by people mourning loved ones who have died in crashes. Soon, drivers will see a new set of memorials erected by law enforcement, constructed by students and paid for through business donations. No government funds, state or local taxes will be used to pay for the memorials, said Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews.

The program is a joint effort by the Kershaw County sheriff’s and coroner’s offices, South Carolina Highway Patrol (SCHP), Lowe’s, Brad’s Mufflers and the Applied Technology Education Campus (ATEC).

During a press conference Friday morning, Matthews said he and Coroner David West came up with the idea after realizing two sobering facts: In 2016, a record 19 people died on Kershaw County roads; and so far in 2017, six people have died in traffic fatalities, up from only two at this time a year ago.

The new memorials will be fashioned in the shape of a cross. If the family of a loved one killed in a motor vehicle collision agrees, the victim’s name and the date of death will be added.

The first such cross, to be erected on I-20, will serve as a memorial to Matthew Boland, who died Jan. 1. Boland’s father, Eric, who is the headmaster at Camden Military Academy, spoke briefly at Friday’s press conference.

“Our hope is that seeing these crosses will help slow people down,” Boland said.

He said Matthew, who was 30, died when his vehicle hydroplaned and went off the road.

“It wasn’t speed, drugs or alcohol, but the weather,” Boland said. “He did all the things he should have done, but if this makes even one person think more carefully about how they’re driving, it will have worked.”

Sheriff Matthews said the crosses may even play a part when deputies or troopers pull somebody over.

“The idea is when we write a ticket, we can point to the cross on the road … and remind them to slow down and not drive so aggressively. Our hope is that travelers will slow down, but, we don’t know what people are going to do when they see these,” he said.

Matthews said the record number of fatalities in 2016 happened despite increased patrols. He said the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) works in conjunction with the SCHP at collision scenes, which means deputies and troopers are seeing the tragic results of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, speeding, and aggressive driving first hand.

SCHP 1st Sgt. Mark Danbeck agreed.

“We see the consequences and we don’t want to have to go up to a family’s house and tell them about their loved ones,” Danbeck said, while touching on “Target Zero” -- the SCHP’s campaign to reduce, if not eliminate traffic-related fatalities. “It’s going to be up to law enforcement and the public. One traffic death is too many.”

He urged drivers or passengers who see someone else driving erratically to dial *HP or 911.

Meanwhile, this week, Kershaw County will see a quarterly step-up in enforcement as residents and visitors head into the St. Patrick’s Day weekend. The four days of enforcement will feature additional units assisting not only the SCHP, but the KCSO and Bethune, Elgin and Camden police departments, as well as other law enforcement agencies in Lee County. Patrols will be using radar, checkpoints and more in an effort to keep roads safe as people travel through Kershaw County on their way to various festivities in Columbia and on the coast.

Danbeck asked West to speak one more time on the new memorial program. He echoed something Boland said about his son’s memorial.

“If people slow down even more when they’re trying to read the crosses -- if it saves even one life -- then it’s done its job,” said West, who added he has seen too many traffic fatalities due to alcohol and drug use.

Matthews said the other five 2017 crosses will be erected soon and that memorials to 2016 victims will likely be installed in the near future. He said Lowe’s and Brad’s Mufflers are donating materials and funds to the program. ATEC students will build the crosses, he said.

(The online version of this story has been corrected to clarify that ATEC students will be constructing the crosses for the memorial. A printed correction will appear in the Friday, March 17, 2017, printed edition.)

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