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PHARR — A 2015 robin’s egg blue Cadillac Hearse from Kreidler Funeral Home was parked outside the Texas Department of Transportation’s local conference center here on Thursday afternoon.
Inside, a black casket sat open in one corner of the room with a framed picture of a tombstone resting inside. Local first responders gathered with guests who were dressed in mourning attire with black colored clothing and held signs that read, “Help #EndTheStreakTx”.
These were scenes from a mock funeral held by TxDOT’s Pharr district office on Thursday in observance of the 23rd anniversary of the state agency’s End The Streak safety campaign and to raise awareness of the high volume of fatal and preventable vehicular crashes that occur daily on Texas roads.
“Today is an event that was put together to remind folks about the ending the streak campaign,” said engineer Pete Alvares of TxDOT’s Pharr district. “November 7, 2000 was the last deathless day on Texas roads. It’s almost 23 years where everyday a life is lost. We have to end the streak and maintain mission zero where no lives are lost on roadways.”
Since Nov. 7, 2000, there have been a total of 83,611 deaths related to vehicular crashes in the state of Texas, according to TxDOT. So far this year, there have been 3,181 deaths.
“This is the first time that we have a mock funeral,” Alvares said. “The whole idea is to have a somber press conference, a sad press conference to remind the public that this could be you if you’re not following the rules — if you will — while operating a vehicle.”
TxDOT’s Pharr district is the southernmost district in the state and includes Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy, Starr, Zapata, Jim Hogg, Brooks, and Kenedy counties.
Representatives from TxDOT shared a short presentation during the mock funeral that included statistics about the number of traffic-related fatalities in the region.
In 2022, there were a total of 127 deaths in the district, including 31 alcohol-related crashes, 24 pedestrians, 18 unsafe speed, and 15 for failure to drive in a single lane. Those statistics also showed that 32% of the fatalities involved individuals who were not properly restrained.
So far this year, there have been a total of 109 traffic-related fatalities, including 16 involving alcohol, 14 involving unsafe speeds, 12 involving failures to drive in a single lane, and 11 pedestrians.
Also, 23% of those deaths included unrestrained occupants.
“I am the last person that anybody wants to see in our industry, and this is a very somber occasion,” Kreidler Funeral Home Director Joe Louis Sanchez said during the news conference. “I think it’s very important in our role as funeral directors to show you what could happen on these roads.”
Sanchez said that it is a regular occurrence for him to be called to bury people who have been killed as a result of drinking and driving or texting and driving.
“I have to explain to grieving mothers that they may not be able to see their loved one anymore because their body is mangled,” Sanchez said. “There’s only so much training we can do and reconstructive work to allow a family to be able to say goodbye. There’s no need to have any of this.”
Edinburg Police Chief Jaime Ayala and Pharr Fire Chief Pilar Rodriguez also shared experiences they’d had responding to crashes. Rodriguez said that as he was arriving at the mock funeral, his department was dispatched to a crash that had just occurred on the Pharr Interchange.
The mock funeral concluded with a short presentation from JoJo Cerda from the FM 100 KTEX Morning Show, who read the epitaph from the picture of the tombstone in the coffin on display.
“The big picture here is focusing on the task at hand, and that is to drive properly,” Alvares said.