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Stoplights cause confusion during funeral processions

April 16, 2002|BY MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown resident John Morris was part of a funeral procession recently and said there was a fair amount of confusion when participating cars came to red lights.

Some drivers wondered whether they should go through or stop for the signal.

"Some older people in the procession stopped at the red lights," Morris said. "Others went on through."

In Maryland and Pennsylvania, laws allow funeral processions to go through red lights if the cars' four-way flashers are on. West Virginia has no such law.

Most funeral directors say courtesy and respect used to be enough to keep other motorists back. But all agree there are times when that doesn't seem to be the case.

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Douglas Fiery had no trouble remembering his most blatant example of bad behavior by a motorist encountering a funeral procession.

"It happened about 11/2 years ago during the funeral procession for a law enforcement officer," said the funeral director of the Douglas A. Fiery Funeral Home on Eastern Boulevard.

On that occasion, a driver attempted to blend into the procession from a side street despite repeated warnings from a police officer who was part of the procession.

Fiery said that driver made a hand gesture at the police officer, at which point she was stopped and issued a citation. He said he didn't know exactly what the citation was for.

"In Maryland, each car must have the four-way flashers on to go through a red light," Fiery said. All participants are also advised on the day of the funeral to turn on their headlights and are given a funeral home flag to attach to their cars.

Bob Rigot, vice president of Brown Funeral Home in Martinsburg, W.Va., said that while that state doesn't have such a law, there is a strong sense of courtesy and respect for the most part.

"We also have a police escort in most cases, and that helps," Rigot said. "But we still hope people will be courteous and they usually are."

In cases where police escorts aren't available, Rigot said the lead car in the procession is outfitted with a purple flashing light to indicate that a funeral procession is coming through.

Chad Starliper, a funeral director at Thomas Geisel Funeral Home in Chambersburg, Pa., said there is a law in Pennsylvania similar to Maryland's requiring that four-way flashers be engaged.

"The lead car has control," Starliper said. "We explain everything to those who will be in the procession."

Starliper said problems occur because people are too impatient these days. "But that is still the exception," he said.

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