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An animal rights group wants Illinois to install highway signs in memory of cattle that died when trucks hauling them flipped in two separate wrecks.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wants to buy the markers, one in suburban Chicago and one northwest of Peoria. PETA's Dec. 15 request to the Illinois Department of Transportation contends the signs would pay tribute to the more than 20 head of cattle killed as a result of negligent driving in Illinois in 2011.
The request likely will be denied, IDOT spokesman Josh Kauffman said. The state's Roadside Memorial Act specifies that only relatives who lost loved ones in highway crashes may request memorials, he said.
PETA campaign coordinator Tracy Patton, of Arlington Heights, who wrote the letter seeking the markers, wants the department to disregard that requirement.
"Because there are no surviving family members for animals in the meat trade, we ask that you waive this requirement of the program and allow concerned Illinois citizens like me to apply in lieu of a relative," she wrote.
In Illinois, relatives of people killed in crashes caused by reckless driving can pay $200 for an official roadside marker if they agree not to place flowers, photos, teddy bears or other items at crash sites. State officials say such makeshift memorials can distract drivers.
Fines pay for signs put up in honor of victims of drunken drivers, and numerous roadside markers have been approved since passage of the 2007 act, also called Tina's Law. The legislation honors Tina Ball, a construction worker killed in a work zone on Interstate 57 by a drunken driver in 2003.
The standard blue signs say either "Reckless Driving Costs Lives" or "Please Don't Drink and Drive" with a smaller sign beneath reading "In memory of" and the victim's name.
Gravely injured by a drunken driver when she was 15, Marti Belluschi of the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists worked for years to pass Tina's Law. She said she's an animal lover, but she wishes PETA would pursue other means of raising awareness for their issues.
"These signs are appropriate for fatal crashes where a human being has lost his or her life," said Belluschi, who still carries facial scars and suffers double vision from the crash in her youth.
Patton wasn't available for interviews Friday, but her boss, New York-based PETA spokeswoman Ashley Byrne, said the Illinois effort is part of a national campaign to call attention to how cattle suffer in the meat industry. In 2006, Virginia rejected highway markers to memorialize hogs killed in crashes on their way to slaughter at Smithfield Foods.
Virginia and Illinois are the only states where PETA has attempted these campaigns so far, Byrne said.
"Cows are intelligent, sensitive animals who feel pain the same way we do," Byrne said. Livestock transported for slaughter endure extreme weather, hunger and thirst, she said. If they are hurt in an accident, their suffering can be prolonged.
Highway crashes involving livestock can be horrific. Cattle plummeted from an overpass in May when a truck overturned on Interstate 80 near Hazel Crest. The roadside markers envisioned by PETA would memorialize 16 animals killed in that accident and six killed in October on Interstate 74 about 40 miles northwest of Peoria. No humans died in the wrecks.