Governor Supports Removal Of Slain Girl's Marker

Governor Kenny Guinn
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Gov. Kenny Guinn supports the removal of a roadside memorial for a slain South Lake Tahoe, Calif., girl, but wants to find a better location for it, his press secretary said.

Greg Bortolin said the governor supports the Nevada Transportation Department's plans to remove the memorial cross for 9-year-old Krystal Steadman along U.S. 50 in the Sierra west of Carson City.

The plans come in response to Reno attorney Robert Angres'threat to sue the state on behalf of an unnamed client who thinks the 8-high cross violates the separation of church and state because it's on state land.

"(The memorial) is not proper. It's a First Amendment issue,"Bortolin told the Nevada Appeal."It's not safe, and it can't be where it's at.

"Gov. Guinn is sensitive to the family and friends of Krystal Steadman, and will work to create a designated area where she will properly be memorialized,"he added.

Guinn is chairman of the Nevada Transportation Board, which next year plans to hold public hearings on roadside memorials put up by families of people killed in accidents.

A plan restricting permanent markers to designated locations across Nevada is being considered by the board, Bortolin said.

The cross is located near the spot where Krystal's nude, battered body was found March 20, 2000. The fourth-grader vanished the day before from a Stateline apartment complex.

Thomas Soria Sr. and his son, Thomas Jr., were charged in the rape and murder. The son pleaded guilty and is serving a life sentence without parole. His father committed suicide in jail a day after his murder trial began.

In recent letters to the state, Angres wrote that his client also thinks the cross is distracting to motorists, decreases the area's scenic value and is on state land without a permit.

"It is important that such a monument be relocated and not stand as an irritant to persons who will constantly be concerned that the vital precepts under which this country was founded and has progressed, are being disregarded out of well-intentioned, but nonetheless inappropriate motives,"Angres wrote.

Scott Magruder, state transportation spokesman, said his agency has no choice but to remove the memorial. The department only allowed the cross because of the sensitive nature of the case, and has no provisions to permit such memorials, he added.

"Because of the sheer size of this cross, we've heard from a number of individuals that did not want it in our right-of-way, and since nothing should be in our right-of-way, we have no other choice,"Magruder said.

John Messina of Silver Springs said he would prefer the memorial to be"more subtle and non-religious.

"To me it's negative. I like to go by to see the beauty of the scenery, not to be reminded to the death of a kid,"Messina added.

But April Arden of Carson City said she was shocked to hear anyone would complain about the memorial.

"I'm glad that it's there, and I'm glad that we remember her,"she said."She needs to be remembered."

Krystal's older sister, Sonya Klempner of South Lake Tahoe, said she thinks the memorial should stay where it is, but she doesn't object to a smaller cross.

The memorial has been vandalized several times since it was installed after the murder.