Horry County coroner discusses roadside memorials
Every single day he goes to visit his daughter’s memorial — the spot where she died in a crash on Carolina Forest Boulevard.
It’s the only memorial he has to visit, where his daughter left the world.
Paul Mullen frequently walks around the area — that has crosses, his daughter’s cheerleader bow, solar lights that glow at night and two chairs — cleaning trash and clearing sticks.
Rachel Mullen died July 2, 2018, in a wreck. She was 19 years old, a graduate of Carolina Forest High School and a soon-to-be sophomore at the University of South Carolina.
Her organs were donated to help seven people, her father said. It’s what Rachel, a nursing major, wanted if something happened to her, he said.
Since Rachel was cremated, the roadside memorial at the place of the crash near Carolina Forest Elementary School is where her family comes out every day to pay their respect and keep the area clean.
Rachel’s roadside memorial is one of dozens all over Horry County, with many in the Carolina Forest area. From S.C. 31 to the Aynor area to the City of Myrtle Beach, crosses in medians and on the side of the road have been placed by families and loved ones in memory of those who were killed in wrecks.
Horry County Coroner Robert Edge said it’s never easy to respond to a vehicle crash, especially when it involves deaths of young people. The memorials, he said, give families some closure and relief.
“If you see one, stop and reflect on why it’s there,” Edge said. “It’s a good reminder if people would just stop and think that it could happen to them or someone in their family.
“We just all need to be a little more cautious in how we drive,” Edge said.
Ryan Mancuso had just bought his motorcycle when he died on April 3, 2018. On the way to work, a car pulled out in front of the 24-year-old’s motorcycle at the intersection of Gardner Lacy Road and Postal Way, according to S.C. Highway Patrol. The driver of the car initially was charged with failure to yield, according to SCHP.
He’s remembered at the intersection with candles, crosses, flowers and a small cat statue. Photos of him with family and friends are pasted to a nearby pole.
On the one-year anniversary of his death Wednesday, about 30 of Mancuso’s loved ones gathered at the site of the crash. His memorial had fresh flowers surrounding a new cross.
“I mean, this is sacred ground for us,” his father, Chas Mancuso, said. “It’s the last place my son was alive on this earth.”
The Mancuso family plans to start a petition, urging lawmakers to make stiffer laws for driving while distracted by a phone.
“This is not an S.C. problem,” his mother, Robin Mancuso-Startup, said. “It is a national problem.”
Mancuso’s uncle Pat Mancuso said it takes a tragedy to make change.
“There’s nothing that we could do that could bring him back, but there’s justice for the next family,” he said, with hopes the petition will make change.
Fatal collisions increasing
The number of fatal collisions have continued to rise slightly in the last three years, according to data from the coroner’s office. Between January and March, 16 people have died in Horry County crashes, including pedestrians. In 2018, 61 people were killed in collisions. There were 53 vehicle-related deaths in 2017 and 46 in 2016.
The community continues to recognize others who have died in crashes throughout the county. Crosses and flowers can be seen stuck in the ground in medians and on the side of roads, each with their own uniqueness.
- T.J. Morgan, 16, drowned in a ditch at Carolina Forest Boulevard and U.S. 501 after his SUV overturned in 2006. A message was painted in black letters on a culvert near the intersection that read: “Fix the ditch please.” About two years later, the ditch was filled in.
The culvert now has the message “Thank you” painted in red.
- A 4-year-old girl was killed in a 2012 crash in front of Tanger Outlets on U.S. 501 after a tractor-trailer crashed into the SUV she was riding in. A stone angel, cross and flowers sit at the site where Jadita M. Bennett died.
- Three teenagers were killed in a single-vehicle crash on Bay Road in December 2016. Hailey Parsons, 15, Kai-Lei Schumal, 14, and Yamila “Naomi” Alcoser Silva, 15, all died after the 2006 Toyota Tundra pickup they were traveling in careened off the road, struck a ditch, and then two trees around 3:15 a.m.
Stuffed animals have been places in tree branches, Christmas ornaments dangle from limbs and crosses hang on a tree at the site of the crash.
- In October, Theresa L. Sikora, 55, of Myrtle Beach, was killed in a crash on S.C. 707 near Big Block Road. A woman driving north struck Sikora, a pedestrian who was crossing the road.
A white-painted cross stands at the scene, with “Theresa 10-9-18” handwritten down the top.
Remembering your loved one
S.C. Department of Transportation has a roadside memorial sign program that allows immediate family members to purchase a sign for $250 with an “in memory of” statement. The sign stays in place for two years before it’s taken down.
Memorials placed by loved ones are technically not permitted on county roads, said Kelly Moore, Horry County spokesperson.
“But we aren’t necessarily taking them down,” Moore said, adding memorials will be removed if they are traffic hazards or not maintained and look like litter. “We also try to understand and sympathize with people who have experienced loss.”