EL PASO, Texas — On Dec. 29, it’ll be three years since Grace Talamantes last saw her daughter.
However, each time she passes by the intersection of Montana and Hawkins, where a blue-tinted aluminum panel sign imprinted with a message “Please Don’t Drink and Drive In Memory of Valerie Talamantes” marks her daughter’s last moments, she is reminded of Valerie.
“The timing was right,” Talamantes said. “It’s a constant reminder for me just knowing that was her last place that she was at and, at the same token, letting people know where ever they see them that it’s something that can happen to anybody everywhere.”
The sign is used to remember Valerie, who passed away after a drunk driver barreled into the back of her sitting-vehicle in 2007, and to raise awareness and deter drunk driving.
“Their loved one was taken, was harmed, was tragically and horrifically taken at that spot, so it’s significant for those family members, for those survivors and what they’ve suffered as a result of that area,” said Virginia Gonzalez, executive director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving West Texas.
The standardized sign, however, was not the first or last marker used to commemorate victims like Valerie.
White wooden crosses are often found in the region, and the nation, on roadsides to mark a place of loss. A small wooden cross with flowers was first resurrected weeks after Valerie’s crash.
“It was up there for two and a half years, and nobody’s touched it, nobody’s done anything to it,” Talamantes said. “As a matter of fact, I would find more flowers on it.”
A Descanso is traditionally used to signify the souls last resting place, as opposed to the grave where remains rest. Forms of Descansos are raised around the world every year.
Although traditional Descansos can still be found, more recently, state and city governments have tried to standardize roadside memorials for safety.
“As far as TXDOT, we remove the unauthorized items—usually it’s not right away,” said Edgar Fino, El Paso TXDOT traffic engineer.
“We let the family grieve for a little while, maybe two weeks after the crash only because we have programs in place that need to be followed in regards to agreement.”
Julie Baldwin-Munoz, spokeswoman for the City of El Paso’s engineering department, said a resolution was passed to establish a roadside memorial marker program. She said the city worked closely with MADD to push it forward to City Council.
“It’s been a program that’s been in existence for quite a bit of time,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve always been in support of it.”
In 2007, the 80th Texas State Legislature launched the program at the request of Julie Blasingame, another mother who lost her daughter to a drunk driver. The memorial marker program is managed by the city and Texas Department of Transportation.
Baldwin-Munoz said the memorial markers were adopted by the city as a means of standardizing and processing the markers.
“We try to install the sign as close as to the location as where the person was killed,” Fino said.
MADD provides help and information for victim’s families to go through the process for the memorial signs. Grace considered the memorial marker after Valerie’s crash, but Burges High School, where Valerie attended school, had already applied and purchased the marker.
“Usually Mothers Against Drunk Drivers probably helps, but TXDOT does not look for the family members,” Fino said. “Usually the family members have to contact us and fill out the agreements.”
The Memorial Sign Program is to memorialize victims killed by impaired driving. These markers can be purchased by relatives and installed near the crash site after the application is approved by TXDOT. The sign cost $300.
Valerie’s sign has stood for three years. Grace said she would like to keep the sign up as long as possible. Initially, she made plans to have the sign installed at Burges.
Grace was offered another memorial marker through MADD. Grace installed another white cross, where the original descanso was, on Oct. 29 to commemorate Valerie’s birthday.
“I’m able to make it a little more personal. I have flowers on it,” Talamantes said.
Gonzalez said although it fluctuates, more than 50 percent of crashes on the road in the El Paso region are alcohol-related. In 2008, 975 deaths related to impaired driving were reported. MADD provides the white-cross as another away of raising awareness.
“Even the loss of one life is one too many,” Gonzalez said.