Complaint against roadside memorial upsets family

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - UPDATE: Kelley said she received a call from the county agreeing to allow the memorial to stay as is.

A large roadside memorial for two teenage girls killed by a drunk driver is causing a controversy.

One complaint to Alachua County, now making Public Works officials question whether the memorial is a distraction for drivers. The family wants to keep the display as is.

"This is where I feel the closest to my daughter," said Mary Kelley. The life of Kelley's 15 year old daughter, Emily Cook, took a tragic turn in December of 2014, when she was riding in a car with her friend Ashley Ertle.

"Ashley's father was three times the legal limit and both girls were killed instantly in the crash," Kelley said.

Kelley got a call earlier this week from the county, asking her to take parts of the display down.

County Public Works Director Ramon Gavarrete said, "A concerned citizen is saying that, because at night there were solar lights that were put up so they're saying that's a distraction for drivers."

The complaint also included that the cross should not be on county property.

"That cross stands for the men and women of our first responders, our EMTs, our firefighters, our police officers, who had to show up that evening and had to endure such a horrific crash," said Kelley.

"The cross, in my opinion, is way back in the right of way," said Gavarrete. "It's only a 4x4 which is what we call a breakaway, so if any vehicle was to hit it, it would just break off."

Cook would be graduating from Gainesville High School this June. "To have someone tell me that I have to remove these memorials for my daughter and for Ashley, it's almost a double bang because I won't get to see her walk across the stage this year. this is where I would come on the day of her graduation," said Kelley.

Gavarrete said the memorial is far enough away from the road to stay. Kelley has removed a set of lights, but the county will keep monitoring whether other parts of the display interfere with driver safety.

"As long as it's not in the way of our operations and the clear zone requirements for safety, we'll probably keep allowing it for now," Gavarrete said.

Eight 8 months before her death, Cook wrote for a school assignment 'I think of life like a blessing.' Now, her mom is using her story as a blessing to others, speaking on behalf of mothers against drunk driving."

Kelley said, "I personally go and speak with first and second degree offenders at the courthouse once a month. I also speak with juveniles who've been in trouble with the law down at ASO, and I speak with the high schools about the dangers of drinking and driving."

Kelley said she will keep fighting for the memorial to keep her connection alive with her youngest daughter. "This is to me where Emily and Ashley's soul left this earth. This is where they left this earth, right here in this spot."