Memorial in Prospect causing tension

Kathie McGirr has been placing flowers and other mementos near a utility pole on Summit Road in Prospect where her 23-year-old son was killed in an accident in February. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
Kathie McGirr has been placing flowers and other mementos near a utility pole on Summit Road in Prospect where her 23-year-old son was killed in an accident in February. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

PROSPECT — The mother of a young man who died in a car accident in February says neighbors are preventing her from mourning his loss the way she feels is appropriate.

After Dustin Paolino was killed when his SUV swerved off Summit Road and hit a large rock and wall, knocking loose a utility pole guide wire, his mother, Kathie McGirr of Wolcott, began visiting the site to place flowers in his memory.

She said neighbors started calling police and tore down her mementos.

“Who are these people to disrespect a grieving mother and her 23-year-old son,” McGirr said.

Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield said he met with the family because police Lt. Nelson Abarazua was concerned the memorial was getting too big and other people going down the road would look at it, causing another accident on the dangerous curve.

“There’s always two sides to every story,” Chatfield said.

He said they came to an agreement that she could put up a small cross with Paolino’s photo. A few days later, he was served with a notice that there may be a pending lawsuit, he said. He wouldn’t say who was filing a lawsuit or to what it pertained.

The Republican-American did not find any court documents regarding a lawsuit involving McGirr.

Chatfield said he sends his sympathies to Paolino’s family.

McGirr said it’s not fair that she’s not allowed to place a memorial at the pole when there are other similar memorials all over the place. She said her son was well-loved, with over 600 people attending his funeral.

“Every time I go there, the police are called within minutes,” McGirr said.

She said she never spoke to the neighbors.

Neighbors declined to speak to the Republican-American, but said there was a lot more involved.

McGirr said she visited the spot about once every three days to change the flowers until the neighbors started calling police in April.

“Every single picture and everything was torn off the pole and destroyed,” McGirr said. “For somebody to just throw my kid away and tell me when and where I can’t grieve. I don’t see how that’s even humane.”

She said if Eversource wants her to take it down, the company should let her know, but neighbors shouldn’t take it upon themselves to remove the items.

The town generally has a 10-foot right of way along the sides of its roads, Chatfield said, though that can vary on older roads in town.

“There has been dozens of memorials and I don’t recall this happening before,” Chatfield said.

Connecticut law prohibits posting a playbill, picture, notice, advertisement or other similar thing on a utility pole. Violators can be fined up to $50.

While Eversource spokesman Mitch Gross said posting things on poles is not allowed, the company is not out policing the 733,000 utility poles it owns outright or jointly with Frontier in Connecticut.

He said the company doesn’t have a policy about people putting things around poles.

“If we have to climb the pole, then we would take steps to make sure the line workers would take steps to make sure they could safely do it,” Gross said.

McGirr said she believes anybody should be able to go wherever they want to mourn the death of a young child.

“It’s the last place that my son took his last breath,” McGirr said. “I’ll be damned if I let anybody tell me that I can’t go there and visit that spot.”