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Palm Beach Daily News

Four memorials for fatal crashes were removed in late August... should they have been?

By Jasmine Fernández, Palm Beach Post,

2023-09-26
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Biliana Spadavecchia’s hope is that her daughter’s roadside memorial serves as a reminder to others to not text and drive.

Her 27-year-old daughter, Kristina, was driving her motorcycle home from lunch with her boyfriend on June 6, 2021, when a woman, who was on her phone, drove through a red light, colliding with the motorcycle and killing Kristina.

“Maybe for those two seconds you could look over and see that someone lost their loved one,” Spadavecchia said of the memorial, which sits on the southeast corner of Powerline Road and Southwest 18th Street. “Someone lost their life over there. Maybe it takes your focus off your phone.”

Kristina Spadavecchia’s memorial was one of the four removed by the Palm Beach County Engineering and Public Works Department on Aug. 18. The Spadavecchias, who erected the elaborate memorial that included a cross, her picture and more, say they were not given any notice when it was hauled away.

About a week after the incident, the county issued a statement offering “its deepest sympathy to all families involved,” but no specific mention of any of the memorial sites, other than one on the south side of Palmetto Park Road west of Boca Raton where five teenagers were killed and a sixth was paralyzed in a 1996 wreck. The 1996 crash became a high-profile case, eventually leading to a new seatbelt law.

The statement said the removal had been an error and that the county had contacted the family of this memorial site to reinstall it at its original location.

But that’s not how Emily or Irv Slosberg — the twin sister and father of Dori Slosberg, one of the teens killed in the 1996 crash — found out. Emily Slosberg, who’d also been in the car on the night of the crash and sustained serious injuries, learned via text.

“A friend texted me a picture showing me that the memorial had been desecrated,” she said.

She and her father ended up finding out, from calls to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, that the county had removed the memorial, apparently by mistake. “They never notified us,” Slosberg said. “They never told us about wanting to move it, wanting to take it down.”

To date, Spadavecchia said she has not received word from the county. She realized Kristina’s memorial was missing after stumbling across a news article about the memorial honoring the 1996 crash.

“I had this shooting pain going through me,” Spadavecchia said. “And I told my husband, ‘Don't go home, drive by the memorial.’ Sure enough, we drive by there and it's all gone.”

Spadavecchia assumed that perhaps the memorial’s location was not allowed. But after casting a net with emails and calls, the Florida Department of Transportation reported back that it was not in the FDOT's jurisdiction to remove such memorials and that personal memorials were always permitted in Palm Beach County.

“I was fuming,” Spadavecchia said. “That was a personal, individual memorial that was up there and it was taken down.”

'My daughter's memorial was taken down and it's in a storage shed unit'

After a week of more calls to so many departments she lost track, she received a call back from someone she thinks was in the engineering department. “They told me that my daughter's memorial was taken down, and that it's in a storage shed unit,” Spadavecchia said.

A few days later, she went to pick up Kristina’s memorial’s belongings, with the help of the staff member.

“I broke down when he opened up the storage unit,” Spadavecchia said. “And I saw my daughter's cross.”

It wasn’t the only cross that had been removed. At the memorial site of the 1996 crash, there were four crosses and one Star of David, originally in place for the five who were killed, that also had been taken down before being reconstructed Aug. 25.

The removals came after a complaint was filed by Boca Raton resident Stephanie Donner, said county Vice Mayor Maria Sachs.

“She was hysterical,” Sachs said of Donner. “So, my staff followed policy, which is, contact engineering.”

It was the fact that there were cemetery markers along the road that did not sit right with Donner, Sachs said. But in her nearly four years in office, Sachs said she had never received a complaint such as this one.

“I think that anytime a family loses a loved one, it's a tragedy,” Sachs said. “We're going to have a workshop so that we can discuss with the public what we should do.

“Should we have large cement markers? Should we have crosses and religious items? Should we have small items to tell people to slow down? These are all the things that we're going to discuss.”

No date has been set for the workshop.

Memorials removed: Families demanding answers from county

Two of the other memorials which were removed belonged to Ingrid Noon, 51, who was struck and killed by a car in the area of Southwest 18th Street and Boca Rio Road in August 2022, and Jean DaSilva, 18, who died near the intersection of Palmetto Park Park Road and Powerline Road in December 2012.

The county restored the memorial for the 1996 crash in its entirety with an appearance by the mayor and the media, exactly a week after its removal. The Spadavecchias restored Kristina’s memorial on their own.

But at a Palm Beach County Commission meeting Sept. 12, relatives and a close friend of Dori Slosberg demanded answers and did not accept the county’s response that staff was to blame for the removal of the 1996 memorial.

Shayna Satzman, the friend, blamed Sachs, whose district is where the memorial was located, for the removal. She called for Gov. Ron DeSantis to remove her from office. Irv Slosberg, Dori’s father and a former state representative in Delray Beach for 23 years, did not go as far, but did say he did not buy the story.

“I don’t believe that a mid-level engineer could have done this,” he said. “We believe it was planned. I’m not going to sue you, but we want an investigation of who did what.”

County Commissioner Sara Baxter, Mayor Gregg Weiss, County Administrator Verdenia Baker and County Attorney Denise Coffman were quick to come to Sachs’ defense. They confirmed Sachs’ account that her involvement only went as far as referring the complaint to the engineer’s office.

“This was a mistake made by staff,” Baker said. “We quickly acknowledged the mistake.”

It turns out that the 1996 memorial was not on county property, but on a Lake Worth Drainage district parcel, and it had been there for 27 years.

Still, Irv Slosberg’s comments drew a rebuke from Weiss.

“You are entitled to your opinion but not your own facts,” said Weiss, who, in the spirit of the Jewish holidays, asked for forgiveness. “We are all fallible. We are human beings. We have owned up to the mistake and tried to make amends.”

But Emily Slosberg, Dori’s sister who also represented the same district as her father, but for six years, said the county had treated the memorial like garbage.

Baker said that going forward, staff would ensure that a memorial being considered for removal would have to be on county property.

Commissioner Marci Woodward told The Post that she wanted the removal policy reviewed. No removals of memorials should occur without first notifying those who put them up, though, Irv Slosberg said.

His daughter agreed.

“'Sorry' is not good enough,” she said. “This brought back Feb. 23, 1996, to us all over again. We are still trying to recover.”

Spadavecchia, too, has been left in confusion and frustration after Kristina’s memorial was removed and stored in an engineering shed.

“She was the kind of friend that everybody wants to have, but only a few were blessed to have,” Spadavecchia said of her only daughter. “She was such an amazing soul. She would be the person that you would call if you were sitting on a ledge.”

Since the crash two years ago, Spadavecchia and her husband have urged the county to inspect and fix the timing of the traffic lights at the intersection of Powerline Road and Southwest 18th Street where their daughter was killed.

“I gave up on it because I felt like nobody was willing to do anything or to even listen,” she said. “Every time I go by the memorial, there's always debris from a wreckage.”

Palm Beach Post reporter Mike Diamond contributed to this report.

Jasmine Fernández is a journalist covering Delray Beach and Boca Raton at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at jfernandez@pbpost.com. Help support our work. Subscribe today.

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