DA: Funeral Processions Should be Banned

December 28, 2010
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imageMcALLEN, TX ? Hidalgo County should ban funeral processions, county District Attorney Rene Guerra said Thursday.

A fatal crash during a funeral procession Wednesday has led to questions about the safety of the motorcades, where law enforcement officers guide traffic by blocking intersections. A Hidalgo County Precinct 2 constable?s deputy hit and killed an Alamo woman Wednesday when the deputy?s cruiser ?t-boned? the vehicle she was traveling in.

Guerra said he?s been concerned about funeral processions for years now, but Wednesday?s crash has revived the debate and sharpened his concerns.

?I was afraid that what happened yesterday would happen,? he said.

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Escorting funeral processions has become increasingly dangerous because there are many careless drivers who disregard the escorts, Guerra said. Processions also require a lot of man power and it?s unclear where the acquired funds should go, he added.

?One of the questions raised earlier was if the constables could keep the money or if they should turn it over to the county, especially when county officials are involved,? he said about the fees funeral homes pay the constables. There is also a debate about whether the money should be considered a donation or a payment, he added.

?It?s a situation that creates a problem for everybody involved in a funeral procession,? Guerra said. ?I think that if funeral homes would calculate how much time it takes individuals to get out to the cemeteries after the services, people would be easily buried and everybody would have a chance to attend the funeral (without a procession).?

But the processions he would like to see banned are deeply embedded in the Rio Grande Valley?s culture, said Marc Gonzalez, funeral director for Rivera Funeral Home in McAllen.

?A lot of people are used to following the hearse and having a procession instead of just saying ?We?ll meet at the church,?? he said. ?If they ban escorts, I know it will get some people upset.?

Funeral homes usually contract peace officers, such as police officers and constable?s deputies, for the processions, Gonzalez said, because they are the only ones authorized by law to stop and direct traffic. But funeral homes also have another alternative: private escort companies. Rivera Funeral home usually contracts the service from a local company, except when the family of the deceased requests the constables or other law enforcement agencies, Gonzalez said.

Some funeral homes in bigger cities, like Dallas, have actually stopped offering the services because traffic can become quite heavy, he added.

?Even with escorts ? some people out there are just in a rush,? he said. ?They won?t slow down or they?ll try to beat the procession.?

Another important issue to consider is how the lines will be drawn if the processions are banned, Gonzalez said.

?What happens when you have a high ranking official who passes away, and here come (city police) and county officials providing an escort, but yet for regular people they can?t have one,? Gonzalez said. ?That could be another problem.?

?If you?re going to do it, you?re going to have to do it across the board for everybody.?

Guerra said he understands that many see processions as a way to honor the dead but the issue deserves to be reviewed.

?I?m sure there?s a few who are used to the processions, but I think it?s something we have to look at,? he said. ?I think the loss of one life is too many.?

Pharr police have not released the victim?s identity and are still investigating the accident, said Sgt. Santiago Solis. The deputy, who was being treated for non-life threatening injuries, is out of the hospital and the condition of the other driver is unknown, he said.

Investigators are waiting for blood-test results, which are always administered when a fatality is involved, he added.

?It?s all going to depend on the complete investigation and the blood results,? he said. ?And if everything comes back clean, most likely there won?t be (any charges filed).?

Police, however, will submit the report to Guerra?s office, and it will make the final decision, Solis said.

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