Durant City Council approves permanent memorial for teens

Kevin Farr,
The Bryan County News
A temporary memorial near the intersection of West Main and Radio Road for four Durant High School students killed in a May crash is adorned with flowers and balloons. At its meeting this month, the Durant City Council approved a permanent memorial for the teens, which will be constructed nearby.

Following discussion at its regularly July meeting last week, the Durant City Council approved a location for a permanent memorial structure to be placed near the site of a tragic vehicle accident Memorial Day weekend that claimed the lives of four Durant teens.

Hunter Ford, Jack Sarver, Fernando Flores and Kaleb Foster died following the accident, in which they were hit from behind by an intoxicated driver while sitting at the stoplight at West Main and Radio Road.

Since the accident, local students and other community members have maintained a temporary memorial near the location.

“It would be safer and more structurally sound in erecting something permanent,” Police Chief David Houser told the council. “This has become a major site of remembrance for a lot of our students and others, but it’s going to have to be cleaned up eventually. Several facilitators got together and came up with the idea of a permanent memorial.”

Police Officer Rick Ford, whose son Hunter passed away following the accident, spoke to the council and urged them to approve the memorial’s placement at the location.

All of the council members agreed that they were in favor of the proposal, but some questioned whether a different location, such as at the high school, would be safer.

“Many locations were considered,” Houser replied, “but this was the desired location as the primary vision of this project because of the proximity to the crash site. That is important to all those families that were affected. It is expected to run parallel to Main Street.”

The memorial wall reportedly was initially expected to be about 7 feet wide and 2 feet deep, with four sitting lions above. The plans have expanded and the structure could be as wide as 14 feet, according to the police chief, with a private group planning to raise all the funds needed.

The council approved the request with all permit fees waived by the city.

Also during the meeting, Mayor Oden Grube made a presentation to Asian Gourmet Chinese Restaurant, recognizing the eatery for donating $30,000 in hand sanitizer and personal protection equipment to local organizations including Alliance Health Center and the city of Durant during the coronavirus pandemic.

“As soon as COVID-19 really began to affect us, we couldn’t get our hands on hand sanitizers and face masks, and they (Asian Gourmet) stepped up and helped us out,” said Emergency Management Director James Dalton.

The council also presented service awards, including a half-dozen for employees with 20 years or longer with the city.

Those included police Lieutenants Chris Marcy, Jesse Petty and Robert Gibson for 20 years of service. Michael Stinson, Lt. Stacy Loper and Battalion Chief Steven Wilson were each recognized for 25 years of service.

Retiring firefighter Steve Kelso was also recognized by the council for his 27 years of service with the Durant Fire Department.

In other action, the city council voted to approve a resolution to rename four sections of old Highway 70 within Durant city limits.

The section of the highway from the corner of Mulberry and First Street running east to the bypass will be renamed Magnolia. The section from McLean Street to the bypass will be renamed East Main Street.

The changes, which will be effective Nov. 1, were a recommendation of the Oklahoma State Department of Transportation.

The county will follow suit in the change in order to comply with 911 standards. Approximately 40 businesses and residences will reportedly be affected by the address changes.

“An address change is not a pleasant thing to go through,” Councilman Jerry Tomlinson stated. “I see the necessity though, and think it’s in our best interest.”

Council members also voted for a proposal to add extra lighting, including LED lights, throughout the downtown business district.

The proposal initially went through the Tourism Authority with tremendous approval, according to Durant Chamber of Commerce Vice President Curtis Armor.

“I’m incredibly excited about getting this done,” he commented. “It will light it up and make it pedestrian-friendly for those coming into town. It will make direct dividends to the city for years and years to come.”

The council also issued approval for a professional services agreement with Wall Engineering Firm for engineering services for the Smart Meter Conversion project. Total estimated cost is $3.6 million according to Public Works Director Marty Cook.

“We have the loan and one-and-a-half-million-dollar grant to get this started,” Cook told the council. “This work order will allow me to start meeting with Wall Engineering and move forward. We hope to have bidding for construction done in October and equipment on the ground by December.

“Software has to be integrated into the system. Every one that is in the ground is one less we have to read. We really start seeing the payback at that time.”

Meanwhile, a proposal to rezone property near the intersection of the Highway 70 bypass and Cemetery Road to industrial was denied at the meeting.

The council also extended the current state of emergency due to the pandemic through Aug. 12.