JCPD to consider ending funeral procession, escort services

JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – For nearly 60 years, John Birchett’s family has owned and operated Birchette Mortuary in Johnson City.  His family knows first hand how much a funeral and the coveted procession means to a grieving family struggling to find peace.

“The procession itself adds to a bit of important to the life and a bit of closure,” John Birchett said.

Now, that bit of closure could soon be a distant memory. Johnson City police chief Mark Sirois says the traditional “in kind” escort services provided by police officers has over time become a safety hazard.

He recalled one officer being injured while working a procession.

“He was on a motorcycle and that individual wasn’t paying attention and passed that officer and knocked him down off his motorcycle,” Sirois said.

The chief cited the case Aderson Versus Chattanooga as one reason for his immediate concern.

In this particular case which involved an accident during a funeral procession. An officer serving as an escort left the intersection just before the accident happened. The court determined that the city would be held liable for that accident.

The chief says he is hoping to prevent this from happening in Johnson City

“Legal action is a concern for us of course, the main thing we want to do is insure not only our community is safe but we want to insure that our officers are safe as well,’ Sirois said.

Funeral directors say if escorts go away they are prepared to consider other options.

“If it does happen we will have to make an adjustment, make things work out,” Keith Biddix, Funeral director at Tetrick Funeral home said.

Some possible options the chief and funeral directors are considering include, stopping funeral processions through the city altogether. They also discussed coming up with alternate routes to avoid high traffic areas, having funeral home owners take on the responsibility of their own processions. And also looking at the options for outsourcing the processions to a private company.

Regardless, John Birchett says he understands, certain tradition don’t evolve with the times.

“It’s something sad to see go away, but I would rather end it than have some one lose their life in procession,” Birchett said.

The chief says before any final decisions are made, the issue will be brought before the city commission.

Copyright 2016 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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