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Anonymous complaint means memorial for crash victim must move

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A professionally constructed and installed roadside memorial for a beloved member of a Wisconsin community must be moved because of a single anonymous complaint, according to multiple reports.

The memorial was installed along a Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, road July 30, more than a year after 52-year-old Maureen Mengelt was hit and killed by a drunk driver while she was out for an afternoon jog in April of 2013.

Former Lutheran bishop Bruce Burnside, 60, of nearby Madison, pleaded guilty to felony second-degree reckless homicide. He was sentenced this past summer to 10 years in prison July 31, Channel 3000 reports.

The memorial, which was approved by the Sun Prairie City Council following a fundraising effort that collected $2,800, is an elevated bronze plaque anchored to a slab of concrete at least 20 feet from the road, according to the Chippewa Herald.

On Sept. 11, Dane County Public Works received a complaint from an anonymous resident about the memorial – the nature of the complaint is not known, the newspaper says. But, according to Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) guidelines for roadside memorials, it must be removed if the state receives a complaint, among other reasons.

“We tried to put up the most respectful, beautiful memorial we could, and now one person gets to anonymously complain and all of those good intentions mean nothing? It’s a terrible rule,” Matt Glowacki, who was the lead organizer of the memorial, told the Chippewa Herald.

He says he was aware of the state's rules, but never thought anyone would actually complain.

Over a decade ago, roadside memorials weren't permitted at all in the state. Wisconsin was one of just a few states to have an explicit ban on them (Minnesota allows them for a certain amount of time, Iowa and North Dakota ban them), but in 2003 the state DOT lifted its ban on roadside memorials.

News about the impending removal of the memorial spread quickly – even Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, was involved with trying to save the memorial. Hebl told the Chippewa Herald Wednesday that the memorial will need to be moved, but the thought of moving the memorial away from the crash site makes Glowacki upset.

"Context is at least part of the story," Glowacki told the Chippewa Herald. "You don't put a Pearl Harbor memorial in the middle of Afghanistan."

Kevin Mengelt, Maureen Mengelt's husband, told the newspaper he's frustrated someone would complain, saying "It just seems mean-spirited." He stops by the memorial and touches it on his daily runs – the couple frequently ran that route together.

City officials are now looking for a new place for the memorial. One likely option is Orfan Community Park, where an annual 5K run in Mengelt's honor has been held the past two Mays.

The race goes to benefit the Maureen Mengelt Memorial Fund, which has raised more than $90,000 in 18 months – the money goes to support Sun Prairie students in athletics and music programs, WKOW says. In January, the Mengelt family donated $37,000 towards the city's new ice rink, according to a post on the Maureen Mengelt Memorial Facebook page.

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