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Funeral procession etiquette becoming modern-day rarity

(Photo: A policeman reinforces
a funeral procession's legal right
to proceed unbroken through intersections.
News Herald Photo: Dana Miserez)

DAVID ANGIER
The News Herald


From behind the tinted windows of their slow-moving vehicle,
family members are watching everything that goes on around them outside.

They see the impatient acts
by motorists feeling inconvenienced by the funeral procession
and the minutes it will take to pass by.
They also see and appreciate the small gestures of courtesy
that ever-fewer people still express to the dead and grieving.

"Many times I'll be driving the limousine with the family,"
said Steve Southerland II. "A lot of them are from out of town
and they always acknowledge how nice it is here.
They notice that cars have pulled over and they'll comment on it."

The co-owner of Southerland Family Funeral Homes said
he's seen a decrease in the extent of courtesy shown to funeral processions
but Bay County is still better in this regard than many other places.

"When I'm out driving and I come up on a funeral procession
I pull over," he said. "That's just a common courtesy."

There's no law requiring motorists to pull off the road for a funeral procession to pass,
unless ordered to do so by the law enforcement escort.
It is against the law for anyone
who is not a part of a procession
to cut through or into it.
And, by law, processions have the right of way at intersections.
Once the lead car in a procession goes through an intersection,
every car in the procession is allowed to pass through regardless of the traffic lights.

When a procession is traveling along a four-lane road,
motorists approaching from behind should not attempt
to pass unless an officer motions them to go around.

Bay County sheriff's Cpl. William McNeil,
a member of the motorcycle unit, said
officers' lives may depend on motorists
not only pulling over when a procession passes,
but pulling as far over as possible and staying put
until the last car has gone by.

McNeil has been leading funeral processions for two decades.
Only once has the department lost an officer on funeral escort duty -
when Deputy Don. C. Johnson was fatally struck
by an oncoming motorist a week ago -
but McNeil has had a lot of near misses
from drivers who were simply not paying attention.

When motorcycle cops escort a procession
from a church or funeral home to a cemetery
they almost always work in a team.
There are usually two motorcycles,
possibly a third, and sometimes marked police cars.

They try to station an officer at the front of the procession
to wave motorists to the side of the road to make a clear lane
for another officer riding the center stripe from the back of the procession.
Officers will usually leapfrog from one intersection to another.

One officer will go ahead of the procession and block an intersection.
When the last car goes by he takes off again for the front.
The officer up ahead will try to get him a clear path.
But if it's a large enough procession
and the intersections are close to each other
that officer may have already gone ahead
to block the next intersection.

"If it's a big procession
and there's only two of us working,
we can get stretched pretty thin," McNeil said.

Even stopping traffic at an intersection is dangerous and time consuming.
Motorists may try to beat the procession through.
McNeil said he's stopped traffic moving one way,
turned his back to stop traffic going another
and the cars he'd just stopped will start to go through.

"At that point I'll have to get off my bike, leave it in one lane
while I go and stop that traffic and clear the cars that are going through," he said.
"All that with the procession coming on."

Large trucks are warning signals for officers.
Motorists often can't see around a truck
and don't know why it's suddenly slowing down or stopped at a green light.
Unknowingly they'll attempt to pass and place an officer's life in danger.

Deputy Jimmy Ammons was leading a procession
when a woman attempted to pass a truck that was slowing down.
She swerved out directly in front of the deputy,
who did the only thing he could -
he jumped off his motorcycle and out of the car's path.

"I thought he got hid head on," said McNeil,
who was at the back of that procession.

Ammons was shaken but not injured.
He said he had to spend several minutes with the car's driver,
who was so upset by the near miss she couldn't drive.

Southerland said it's important
for the driver of the procession's lead car
to watch everything that's going on and work with the officers.
They're not connected by radio communication
so the driver will have to rely on attentiveness and experience.

"The motorcycle unit is trained to do what they do and they're very good at it," Southerland said.
"I never go through an intersection without them first being there.
I'm always checking my mirrors to see when they're coming up.
As they come up I move over farther to give them room."

Ammons even had a close call with a woman driving in a procession.
He was riding up from the back of the line
when the woman changed her mind about going to the cemetery.
She made a left turn out of the procession without looking and clipped Ammons' rear tire.

Jim Tuton, funeral director for Kent-Forest Lawn Funeral Home,
has been organizing processions for 27 years.
He says people are getting in too big of a hurry
to care as much about respect as they once did.

"It takes two, three, four minutes at the most to stop
and pay respect to that person and that funeral," he said.
"Their day's going to come and when it does they'll want that respect."

Tuton said little things make a big difference.
When motorists pull off the road,
take their hats off and turn on their headlights,
the family sees it and appreciates the gesture.

"We've come up on work crews along the side of the road.
They'll stop what they're doing,
take their hats off
and put them over their hearts.
The families see this."

Sunday, July 18, 1999

&#169 The News Herald
 

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I always yield the right of way to funeral processions. That's just plan common sense.
 

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+1 I actually live next to a big cemetary, I always give the recently deceased respect.
 

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I moved to MI from the UK 3 years ago. I took and passed my drivers test within weeks of being here - but it was several months until I saw a funeral procession. The first time that I did - I cut in front of someone in the procession as it was my turn at the light.

I honestly did this because there was nothing listed about it in the book that you get from the Secretary of State that you are tested on. I did not do it to be an ass - and I would not do it again, now that I know. But there is no way that I could have known what was going on - unless you have some prior knowledge to know what the flags mean (I did not see the lead cars, so they were just regular cars). It is rediculous that there are rules that are not in the booklet - how is anyone supposed to just know something.
 

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Thank you for posting this.

Recently, I was on a ride out to a popular breakfast stop in the middle of nowhere. I saw an officer driving toward us with his lights on, being followed by a string of cars with their headlights on. Out of respect, I pulled over... even though I was headed in the opposite direction the procession was.

The other riders with me got upset that I didn't go. They were upset because the cars that were ahead of us pulled over... they saw a window to pass the other cars. :shake

I felt bad because I felt disrespectful for leaving my helmet on... the whole hat on head thing... :shrug

Yeah, funny that we should think our society is losing respect, huh? Sad.
 

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I was the first guy at a light that stopped and a funeral procession for an officer killed in the line of duty. The procession was passing on on the opposite side. The police blocked off our side from going until the entire line of cars went by (took about 15 minutes)..As soon as I stopped, this guy next to me keeps hitting his hands on the steering wheel as if he is pissed. Then he starts beeping the horn over and over. I rolled down my window and kindly asked him to SHUT THE FUCK UP. Fuckin idiot.
 

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Ok, let the flaming come my way, but I don't totally agree 100% with the procession thing, especially if there is 4 lanes. I can see pulling over if it's 2 lanes, or at a stop light so that the procession traffic doesn't get interupted, but not if there are other lanes available and the light is green if you are going in the same or opposite direction. By all means, this is not because I don't respect the deceased, it's just that I try to see the most rational aspect of things. Another reason being (and we've all seen this) is that some processions are FREAKING miles long and takes forever.

If and when I'm dead, and for some odd reason there is a procession for my funeral, I for one do NOT want people to stop doing what they're doing just cuz my freakin ass is being taken to the cemetery. A general "mental" acknowledgment would suffice. My logical thinking is that you're out there driving cuz you've got somewhere to go and things to do, so go ahead and do it.

I don't know, maybe I'm the only one that thinks this way :shrug.
 
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