“These people are calling us unpatriotic, scum of the earth...I’d say over 90 percent have cussed me out.”
By NOAH BUNN
The Dallas Morning News
On Saturday, the 300-car funeral procession for Cody A. Board will make its way over the Oklahoma prairie to the 19-year-old McKinney soldier’s gravesite. The procession will cover 50 miles of tollway and rack up a bill of nearly $400.
That toll tab, usually passed along to families, has sparked an outcry in Texas and elsewhere. It’s prompted one Oklahoma legislator to vow to seek a change in the state’s policy.
In the meantime, Oklahoma Turnpike Authority officials promised to pick up the tab for Board’s funeral procession — but not before the agency’s spokesman, Doug Damrill, fielded more than 150 angry calls in the wake of media reports about the toll policy.
“These people are calling us unpatriotic, scum of the earth,” he said. “I’d say over 90 percent have cussed me out.”
Damrill said the authority’s hands are tied by Oklahoma statutes and the agency’s agreement with its bondholders. Under the rules, tolls can only be waived for emergency vehicles and state troopers.
The authority’s practice is to bill funeral homes directly for tolls incurred by funeral processions. Those costs are then typically passed along to families.
Board, a first class private in the Army, was a 2009 graduate of McKinney North High School. He was killed Oct. 4 in Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device. His body was returned from Afghanistan this week. He’s being buried with military honors at Fort Sill National Cemetery in Elgin, Okla.
Mike Lambert, a representative of the Patriot Guard, a motorcycle group that provides funeral escorts for fallen soldiers, was one who took exception to the Oklahoma toll policy. He acknowledged that his e-mail plea for support spread beyond its intended audience.
“When this got put on the Internet, it got away from the Patriot Guard,” he said. “That’s when the weirdos jumped on it.”
Lambert said Oklahoma Rep. Mike Reynolds called him this morning to offer support. He said the Republican lawmaker promised to help find a solution — possibly using special toll tags and a fund that would cover the cost of tolls for funeral processions.
Damrill, the turnpike authority spokesman, said the state’s toll roads carry about 10 processions a year.
“The average, car-wise, is 25 or 30,” he said. Board’s funeral procession, on the other hand, is expected to include about 300 vehicles, “so this is very unusual.”
Lambert said he was pleased with the turnpike authority’s responsiveness in the case of Board. But he hopes that permanent policy changes are made.
“They know now for sure that this touches a nerve all over the United States,” he said.
A memorial service for Board will be at 9 a.m. Saturday at Our Savior Lutheran Church in McKinney. Graveside military services will follow at 3:30 p.m. at Fort Sill.
© 2010 Dallas Morning News: www.dallasnews.com
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