The death of a retired police lieutenant after he was struck by a car during a funeral procession in Cincinnati should serve as an eye-opener for motorists who can be cited for not obeying the law, police say.
George Brooks, 63, a 25-year veteran of Forest Park Police, died Sunday just hours after the motorcycle he was riding was hit while leading a procession on Liberty Street in Cincinnati. Witnesses say a car pulled out from a side street and hit him.
Ohio law spells out the rules for motorists who are in the processional, and those who are passing it.
When the lead vehicle, whether an escort or Hearse, lawfully enters an intersection, the remainder of the vehicles in the procession have the right of way of the traffic control device.
“If we come to an intersection and the light is red, we have to stop,” said Rob Weigel, of Weigel Funeral Home in Hamilton. “But if the light is green for the hearse, the whole funeral procession can proceed through.”
Weigel Funeral Home does not have a police escort for a typical funeral in the city.
“Usually, we are just going across town, but Cincinnati that is spread out with interstates and traffic, they are used more often,” Weigel said.
Hamilton Sgt. Ed Buns said his department does not provide police escorts for funerals, and most funeral homes who use them hire a private agency for the service. But officers do keep an eye on processionals and a drivers who violate the rules surround them can get tickets. The citation is a minor misdemeanor traffic offense.
“It is not at all uncommon for people to get citations,” Buns said. He added Brooks was a very experienced motorcyclist and that he knew the officer through police charity events.
“It seems like people don’t have any respect anymore,” Buns said. “But I really think it is more about people being impatient and not wanting to wait.”
Weigel agreed, adding cell phones and driver inattention are other dangerous factors.
Middletown police routinely do not provide funeral escorts, but if asked they will assist, officials there say. The same is true of the Butler County Sheriff’s Office.
“We get maybe a handful of requests a year,” said Sgt. Mark Hoffman. “And we no longer have motorcycles, so we do it in cruisers.”
Ohio law also requires vehicles in a funeral procession to have headlights on and display a purple and white or orange and white pennant in such a manner as it is visible to traffic approaching from all directions.
Mark Spaulding of Wilson-Schramm-Spaulding in Middletown said the funeral home always advises drivers in the processional of the rules and to always be aware, especially in intersections.
“Following the car in front of you without being aware is not a good idea,” Spaulding said.
While most drivers are respectful of funeral processions and even pull over to yield as a sign of respect, Spaulding added there are people who are so distracted, especially by cell phones, that everyone has to pay attention to the their surroundings.
Ben Webster of Webster Funeral Home in Fairfield said an escort is used in all processionals.
“It is for safety. Getting a processional through a dozen lights can be difficult,” Webster said, noting Fairfield has no cemeteries in the city, so funeral parties can travel a distance.
Retired Fairfield Twp. Police Officer Rob Judy escorts processions for Webster and other area funeral homes. He was hit doing his job last year on Interstate 275. He suffered hip and shoulder injuries that required surgery.
“My biggest issue is with some of the municipalities and them not allowing us to use red and white lights,” Judy said.
He said funeral escorts who are not law enforcement officers must use amber lights, which are not as visible as red and white.
“I have no problem with not using blue lights, those are for police only. But red and whites are much more visible and may save a life,” Judy said.