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Roadside memorial leaves woman wondering
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Forsyth County News
One woman’s roadside memorial at the site of her late husband’s death has raised questions about what is allowed under state and local law.

Crosses, flowers and other items marking where a loved one has died along a road are not an uncommon sight in Forsyth County, though their circumstances vary.

Donna O’Shields doesn’t know what to do about her situation.

O’Shields said she felt compelled last week to take down a memorial in front of Cherokee Music and Arcade, where it had stood for two years, after a conversation with a company representative.

Wonnie Anthony O’Shields died Aug. 29, 2007, after he wrecked his pickup on Ga. 400, near the north Forsyth business, and crawled out the back window seeking help. An employee later found his body.

O’Shields said she and her 5-year-old daughter visited the site Saturday, the two-year anniversary of her husband’s death.

“It was actually a place that my daughter and I could go and she puts flowers down and asks questions,” O’Shields said. “She opens up when we go there and now we don’t have that.”

She said the memorial was on a hill in the grassy area between Ga. 400 and the business, whose front gate is an estimated 36 feet from the road.

O’Shields said she usually visited the site near the business’s closing time or on Sundays when it was not open so she wouldn’t disturb anyone.

It was not clear if anyone had complained about the memorial. The owners of Cherokee Music referred comment to the volunteer worker handling the situation, Jeremy Seay.

Seay, who began helping out at the business more than a month ago, said he didn’t force O’Shields to take down the cross.

In an e-mail, Seay wrote that the cross didn’t bother him at first, but what it represented eventually weighed heavily on his heart.

“It never really disturbed me until I started feeling the hurt they must be suffering from,” Seay wrote. “I had all these thoughts flood my heart, like why worship or remember the spot one passes rather than the life they lived.

“I know when I pass, I want people to remember me for who I was not where I left. Once we leave this world we have no place in it, for our body is laid to rest but our spirit is passed on into eternity.”

Seay said he prayed for the O’Shields family and spoke with one of Cherokee’s owners about the situation. He said no one knew how to get in touch with O’Shields, so he approached her and her daughter when he saw them at the site.

O’Shields said she removed the memorial because she didn’t want to be accused of trespassing.

“His reason to me was that I needed to remember the memories, not where he died,” she said. “That’s a personal thing ... I understand people have different opinions, but it meant a lot to me and meant a lot to my family to have it there.”

She said the people who had given her permission to erect the cross no longer work at the company.

Teri Pope, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation, said memorials found on state right of way are removed.

Ga. 400 is a state route, though O’Shields wasn’t sure if her husband’s memorial was in the right of way.

Government spokeswoman Jodi Gardner said Forsyth County does not have any policies regarding roadside memorials and there are no codes in place that specifically address them.

Pope said the state policy can be “very sad and difficult to enforce. But if it is in state right of way, we will remove it.”

She said objects in the right of way can cause injury or a fatality, so the state makes an effort to keep the areas clear.

Right of way, she said, differs depending on the road.