Funeral Procession Accidents Becoming More Common, Experts Say

August 26, 2009
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image The death of an Elk Grove Village woman whose car collided with a funeral procession this week was tragic but not surprising, according to experts who say such accidents are more common as a cherished tradition clashes with modern traffic hazards.Carol Struebing, 82, was killed Monday when a pickup truck that was part of a funeral procession drove through a red light and slammed into a car driven by Struebing’s sister, who remained in fair condition Wednesday.

While it is not unusual for a funeral procession to be marred by a fender bender, “there has never been one that is as bad as this one,” said Nathan Tamayo, director of Grove Memorial Chapel, where Monday’s funeral service was held.

Funeral procession laws vary from state to state and even among communities. Illinois law states that the lead vehicle in a procession must obey stop signs and traffic signals, but the rest of the caravan can proceed without stopping and has the right of way as long as all vehicles keep on their headlights.

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>No one tracks the numbers of collisions involving funeral processions, but nationally, news articles show that motorcycle police escorts are among those most frequently injured.

June Lippert, 79, the victim’s sister, drove through a green light apparently unaware that the procession had the right of way. Elk Grove Village police have not issued any citations and are investigating whether the pickup had its lights on as required.

“It was a terrible tragic accident,” said Cyndi Alexander, who has known the sisters for years. Both volunteered at Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village, she said.

“They were very close. Very social, very active. Great sense of humor. Just delightful ladies to be around.”

Funeral processions date back at least 3,500 years to ancient Egypt, out of necessity to transport the body to its resting place, according to Jon Austin, executive director of the Museum of Funeral Customs in Springfield.

For years, mourners did not have to travel far to reach the church graveyard where burials took place. But by the 19th Century, cemeteries were moved outside of city limits for space, and it became more common for people to take public transportation or horse-drawn wagons, then cars, to the grave site, Austin said.

The concept has remained the same, to show respect “by coming together and participating in the shared emotion and grief,” Austin said.

Yet funeral directors agree it is more difficult to safely lead a funeral procession.

“Unfortunately with seniors and even young people who are either preoccupied or not paying attention, collisions do occur,” said Charles Childs, past president of the Illinois Funeral Directors Association.

“Even the drivers in a funeral procession don’t stay close enough and gaps occur, and that’s when people try to jump the funeral procession, not knowing there is a gap.”

On Monday, Tamayo drove the hearse that led the procession of 40 to 50 cars that left Grove Memorial Chapel on South Arlington Heights Road on their way to St. Julian Eymard Catholic Church, at 601 Biesterfield Rd.

Tamayo said he instructs all drivers in a procession to put on their bright lights, their hazard lights and to display an orange sticker in the middle of their windshields. He said all cars in Monday’s procession adhered to those rules before the collision.

“Even after the accident [Monday], I pulled out of church and got cut off four times,” Tamayo said. “There is no respect. I had my hand out the window, people were going around on the shoulder trying to avoid having to stop. Giving me obscene gestures?it’s bad.”

Freelance reporter Carolyn Rusin contributed to this report.

lblack@tribune.com

Article Can Be Found @ http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-funeral-deathjan15,0,7360919.story

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