Funeral directors say other drivers make funeral processions dangerous

Police, traffic experts agree

CINCINNATI -  JC Battle, a local funeral director, didn't have to see the images of a hearse on its roof in the middle of the street to know that leading a funeral procession can be dangerous.

"Back in 2003, I was hit head on," said the owner of JC Battle & Sons.

"It's a pretty risky undertaking, you might want to say."

He wasn't joking.

Battle watched WCPO's report on Wednesday's accident at Colerain Avenue and Banning Road and said:

"Being in the business for over 40 years, that is the worst accident I've seen in a funeral procession." 

RELATED: Watch the WCPO report about the crash.

Traffic experts and police agree about the danger.

Officers who escort funeral processions – particularly the ones on motorcycles - are most at risk. Some are killed each year.

Many drivers don't know the law: A funeral procession can go through a red light or stop sign and continue through the intersection even after the traffic light changes.

And John B. Townsend II says the problem with "funeral procession crashers" – rude or distracted drivers - is becoming an epidemic.

"We talked to 25 or 30 funeral directors and they all complained about how rude drivers are," Townsend said.

That goes from the worst drivers - the ones trying to cut through or speed around a funeral procession -  to the annoying ones who make obscene gestures or just honk their horns.

Townsend is Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic in Washington, D.C. AAA Mid-Atlantic did research on accidents – and deaths – involving funeral processions two years ago.

In 2011, three officers and two other motorcycle escorts were killed in funeral procession crashes in the U.S., according to AAA Mid-Atlantic. Eight other officers and a retired officer were injured.

Townsend blames most of the problem on traffic congestion and impatient and distracted drivers.

"There's so much traffic in the big cities. You're in a hurry and here comes a funeral procession. Some drivers get impatient," he said. "Plus, you have cell phones and other distractions. If you're not paying attention …"

On top of that, police no longer escort processions in many areas, he said.

There was a motorcycle officer escorting the procession in Wednesday's accident in Colerain Township, according to Jim Love, Colerain police information officer.

"When you're escorting a funeral procession, you just hope everyone sees you," Love said.

Love said funeral directors try to avoid going through busy, major intersections like Colerain and Banning for just the reason we saw.

"They'll go out of their way to avoid a major intersection. You don't want to be leading a funeral procession through a major intersection," Love said.

"But in this case, the procession was coming from Western Hills and it had to go across Colerain Avenue. They didn't have much choice. They weren't going to take Galbraith Road."

He said the motorcycle officer had shut down all the lanes on Colerain and the hearse, eastbound on Banning, was going straight through the intersection and had crossed all but one lane of the busy highway.

That's when a driver going north on Colerain, in the far right lane, drove through the intersection and rammed the hearse.

Police were still investigating the crash Thursday, checking with businesses to see if they had video of the accident from their surveillance cameras, Love said.

The crash injured the hearse driver and a priest riding with him, and it tortured the son whose mother's casket was on its way to the cemetery.

Kenneth White said he was horrified watching it happen.

"The hearse starts going forward, just almost surreal, this car just accelerates through the intersection and T-bones the hearse, flipping it over," White cried.

Battle says he takes extra steps to be safe. His hearses are equipped with sirens, alternating headlights, flashers and a rotating beacon.

"We try to protect our clients, our staff and ourselves," he said.

"A lot of times people are not patient, because it's almost like trying to get through a train track," he said. "I tell the public, 'Be patient. This could be your mother, your father.' "

Now White says that, too.

"Slow down," he pleaded. "Show some respect."

RELATED: Review Tri-State traffic laws pertaining to funeral processions

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