Texas' removal of DWI signs upsets victim's family

February 16, 2012 9:46:43 AM PST
Since 2007, a sign stood beside LBJ Freeway in Mesquite memorializing Rachel Marie Blasingame and reminding drivers about the consequences of drunken driving.

That sign now rests in Rachel's room with her other belongings, after the Texas Department of Transportation removed it this month, along with dozens of others, to comply with federal regulations.

"It's very sad and depressing to me," said Rachel's mother, Julie Blasingame. "That's a part of my daughter. It's her legacy, and when that sign is taken down, she is no longer helping remind people to not drink and drive."

Rachel was 16 in 2003 when she died in a head-on collision caused by a drunken driver. Her mother and father, Guy Blasingame, worked with Texas legislators and TxDOT to create memorial signs for victims of impaired drivers.

Julie Blasingame knows the sign, placed near the collision site, made an impact: She says an alcoholic once contacted her after seeing the sign and said he no longer wanted to drink.

But officials say legislation and federal standards limit the signs' placement to two years.

TxDOT spokesman Jim Cotton said legislators did not grant an extension for how long the signs could remain up in the last legislative session, so the agency began removing the signs to avoid losing federal funding for the highways.

He said 102 of the 126 signs on state highways that have exceeded the two-year limit and are slated to come down. The Blasingames' was the first to be removed this month.

"Since theirs was the first to go up," Cotton said, "theirs was the first to come down."

He said TxDOT representatives hand-delivered the sign to the Blasingames' Mesquite home last week to honor the family for helping start the program and to show the agency's appreciation.

Meanwhile, Julie Blasingame said she's asked a lawmaker to help her remove the time limit and change legislation to force offenders to pay for the signs as part of their fines. Now families must pay the $350 fee.

"Why does the family have to pay any more?" she said. "We have already paid a dear price."

Blasingame said she's heard from families of other victims memorialized by the signs, upset by their removal.

"It's like grieving all over again," she said. "It's just like another stab at the heart."