Signs honoring drunk driving victims on California highways

By Michelle R. Smith, The Associated Press
Saturday April 06, 2002

CUPERTINO — Three families wept and embraced while unveiling new state highway signs Friday memorializing their loved ones, victims of drunk drivers on California roads. 

The three signs reading “Please Don’t Drink and Drive, In Memory of ...” each carry the name of a woman killed by a drunk driver — Kimberly Wirth, Carol Klamm and Allison “Ali” Sanwo. 

The project of the state Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, is meant to raise awareness of drunk driving, as well as replace the impromptu memorials often erected on the sides of roads for drunk driving victims. 

“When people drive by and they see these names on the signs, that brings it home,” said Caltrans spokesman Bob Haus. “It’s going to be a reminder that drunk driving does hurt, drunk driving does kill, and drunk driving is not going to be tolerated.” 

California is the latest state to start a program to erect official memorials on highways. Oregon and Washington have similar programs, and several other states are considering them. 

Some states — including California — ban impromptu shrines outright, calling them a distraction to motorists and a safety hazard to both the families who put them up and the workers who take them down. 

“We can remember them in a dignified way, and we’re not going to endanger the lives of family members,” Haus said. 

Sharon Sanwo, the mother of Ali Sanwo, applied for the program in February after she read about the new law, which went into effect Jan. 1. 

Sanwo’s daughter was killed on Monterey Road in San Jose after her car was hit by a drunk driver and pushed 25 feet off the road. Ali Sanwo’s sign will be erected by April 12 near the spot where she died, just a few days after the five-year anniversary of her death on April 2, 1997. 

“It’s hard. It’s a good moment, but it’s very hard,” Sanwo said. “We have a special bond now to the place where she died.” 

In California, families are eligible if their loved one was killed on a highway, was not drinking at the time of the accident and if the person responsible for the accident was convicted of drunk driving. 

The family must pay $1,000 for the sign, which Haus said would pay for installation and maintenance. 

Sanwo said she hopes when people see Allison’s name on the sign near where she was killed they’ll stop themselves before they drink and get behind the wheel of a car. 

“This is what can happen,” she said, struggling to control her tears. “This is the sadness of it.”