County says roadside memorial is a safety hazard for drivers but a grieving family disagrees
SHELLEY – Heidi Oyola of Idaho Falls still remembers where she was the day her sister-in-law was killed.
It was Sept. 12, 2019, and she received a news alert on her phone from EastIdahoNews.com a little after 8 a.m. that Alicia Oyola was involved in a car crash.
“It said there was an accident south of town and there was a fire,” Heidi recalls in a phone call with EastIdahoNews.com on Tuesday.
She then received a call from her mother-in-law, who was out of town, and immediately went to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, where Alicia was being taken. When she arrived, Alicia had already died.
“She was driving into town from her home in Shelley and a guy ran a stop sign. He ran into her and it killed her instantly. It pushed her car out into the field,” Heidi says. “There was a warning, flashing sign in front of the stop sign and he missed them both and didn’t even brake. He hit her going about 70 miles per hour.”
The crash occurred at 113th South and 1st East near Shelley, where the posted speed limit is 55 mph.
A news release from the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office revealed that the other driver was able to free himself from his own vehicle and walked over to Alicia’s vehicle to try and help her. Deputies arrived and administered CPR before an ambulance arrived and took Alicia to the hospital.
It’s now been nearly two years since the crash. Family members have continued to mourn Alicia’s death and come to terms with what happened that day.
“She left three young children behind whose lives are changed forever,” Heidi wrote in an email to EastIdahoNews.com. “Her poor mother is also dealing with terrible grief. Many others are still trying to move forward after the loss of this vibrant young woman.”
Alicia’s mom had her daughter’s remains cremated, leaving the family without a grave or any type of tangible memorial to remember her. Just before Memorial Day, the family decided to honor Alicia by placing a photo montage, along with some flowers and a lighted cross, in front of the field where the crash took place.
After several weeks, Heidi noticed a letter had been posted on the memorial. It was from Bonneville County Public Works and was dated June 10.
“With heartfelt sympathy to the family and friends of Alicia, the Bonneville County Public Works Department requests that the memorial for her … be removed from the public right of way within 10 days of the date of this notice,” the letter reads.
The reason for the request, according to the letter, is because the memorial creates a potential safety hazard for people traveling along the road.
“Speed limits on both sections of road are set high and the added distraction and obstacles cause a severe safety concern,” the letter says. “If the memorial is still in place after 10 days from the date of this letter, the Bonneville County Public Works Department will schedule to remove it from the site.”
Heidi says the memorial is on private property and the farmer who owns the field originally gave them permission to place it there. She was unaware of regulations of how far off the road it’s supposed to be.
We reached out to Bonneville County Public Works Director Lance Bates about that. He cites Idaho Statute 49-221, which says,
“It shall be the responsibility of the owner of real property to remove from his property any hedge, shrubbery, fence, wall or other sight obstructions of any nature, except public traffic or highway signs, buildings and trees, where these sight obstructions constitute a potential traffic hazard.”
Bates adds it’s the county’s general policy for anything that is “an attractive nuisance” or “distracts people from following the normal rules of the road” to be removed to prevent similar future traffic hazards, like Alicia’s fatal crash.
In follow-up conversations with Public Works, Heidi says she and her family have responded to the safety concern by suggesting the county put in a four-way stop at that location. Bates says the county does not currently have any plans to do that, but when requests come in there is a process that requires an engineering study of the intersection.
“It follows the guidelines of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (from the Federal Highway Administration). It’s based on volumes of traffic. Knowing the volumes of traffic in the area, it will never meet the (requirement) for putting in a four-way stop,” says Bates.
Right now, the county remains firm on its decision to remove the memorial. Heidi says she and her family are planning to remove it as requested, but they’d like to keep it there if possible.
Bates says Idaho state law allows for roadside displays as long as it’s outside the right of way and meets certain requirements.
“The Right of Way is a minimum of 25 feet from the centerline of each road, and also outside of a 40-foot triangle measured at the intersection of the roads,” he says. “If it’s behind that point, the county will likely not be able to have any teeth to remove the obstacle. I still don’t think it’s a great idea to distract drivers from what they should be doing.”
Heidi and her family have since reached out to the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office and Congressman Mike Simpson’s office in hopes of continuing the conversation.
“The last thing we want to do is cause more danger to the intersection. But we think, if our memorial is a distraction, we need to fix the problem with the speed being too fast out there,” she says.