JOHNSON CITY, TENN. - Johnson City police may soon stop providing escorts for funeral processions.
City commissioners just received that recommendation from Johnson City Police Chief Mark Sirois. He thinks that funeral processions are becoming too high risk, both for his officers and those they're escorting.
"Every time we go through an intersection, we're hoping that people are paying attention," Sirois said.
Sirois has been examining data on funeral processions for years now. He says that he doesn't have the manpower to make sure every intersection is safe. In the past 5 years, there have been 10 wrecks related to funerals, including one officer who was struck by a car. And that doesn't include many near misses.
"We have people who are texting, which is against the law,” Sirois said. “We have people who are talking on their phones, or people who are distracted with other things going on in their vehicle."
Even some of the funeral directors are aware of the problem of drivers failing to realize a procession is in progress.
"The thing they see is a green light, and they keep going through,” said Appalachian Funeral Home Manager Travis Dugger. “Even though we're coming through with a marked car, with our funeral tags on, flashing lights on, headlights on, they still don't notice that it's a funeral procession."
Without the escorts, it could mean the end of funeral processions in the city.
"We will recommend that we meet at the cemetery, just for the liability purposes on the funeral home, and also for the family,” said Tetrick Funeral Services Manager Terina Tetrick. “It'll be safer for everyone to just meet at the cemetery."
Dugger has conveyed his view to Sirois that a new policy should be applied equally.
"You can't say, 'the general public is not going to get an escort,' but all of a sudden, somebody at the city council's parents passed away; 'oh we'll do an escort for them,'" he said.
While Johnson City Police may stop the funeral escorts, Washington County, Tennessee, Sheriff Ed Graybeal said he plans to continue providing them outside the city limits.
The city commissioners will consider the recommendation at their next meeting on Aug. 17.