Sheriff’s Anti-Drug Display : White Crosses Viewed Darkly by Commuters

Times Staff Writer

Sheriff-Coroner Brad Gates’ plan to highlight drug-related deaths by planting hundreds of white crosses near an Orange County freeway has upset some commuters.

“We have received complaints from motorists about the excess amount of time it takes to drive through the (Irvine) area” since the crosses were installed, said Officer Michael Lundquist, a CHP spokesman in Santa Ana.

25 to 30 Complaints

Motorists, including a police officer on his way to work, complained about the white crosses, which were put up Monday near the Santa Ana Freeway in Irvine. The crosses and an 8-foot by 12-foot sign are on a hillside between the Alton Parkway and Laguna Freeway exits.


California Highway Patrol dispatchers estimated that they have received 25 to 30 complaints since the wooden stakes were erected Monday.

About 310 crosses were planted as part of Gates’ anti-drug program and Red Ribbon Week, a national campaign for anti-drug awareness. Each cross symbolizes a drug-related death in the county since January, 1987.

“Surprisingly, I got only one positive phone call on the crosses. They’ve mostly been negative, and we even had an officer from another jurisdiction complaining,” Sheriff’s Department spokesman Lt. Robert Rivas said Thursday.

Except for existing billboards and official markers, the posting of signs on or alongside a freeway is against the law, authorities said. But Lundquist noted that the crosses were not planted on the freeway right of way.

The CHP acknowledges that the crosses have caused attention, not all of it favorable. Nonetheless, Lundquist said, “We do not consider them a major problem.”

‘No Accidents Yet’

“We have had no accidents caused by slowing traffic yet,” he said. “And we’ve heard that the Sheriff’s Department will take them out soon.”

The crosses were scheduled to stay up for one week. But Rivas said Thursday that they will be brought down by Sunday.