2 accidents disrupt funeral procession

A local woman was hospitalized in critical condition after being injured in one of two accidents that disrupted a funeral procession in Bartholomew County.

The most serious injuries occurred in the second accident, reported just after 3 p.m. Monday at U.S. 31 South and East State Road 7, as the funeral procession for the late Wanda Huddleston, 68, Columbus, was traveling toward Springer Cemetery, which is off U.S. 31 near Elizabethtown, investigators said.

Shannon Clark, whose age and address were not available, was flown to Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, where she was listed in critical condition Wednesday, hospital officials said.

Another victim, who was believed to be a family member of the deceased, was taken to Columbus Regional Hospital, but information was not available about her identity or condition.

The Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department is continuing its investigation into both accidents involving the funeral procession, Sheriff Matt Myers said.

With long funeral processions in rural areas, there can be gaps between cars — and drivers with the right-of-way to cross may not realize a procession is going by, Myers said.

Some motorists don’t notice or disregard vehicles that have lighted headlights or flashing lights, he said.

Sheriff’s deputies were initially sent to a personal-injury accident at U.S. 31 north of County Road 100S at 2:44 p.m. Monday, deputies said.

Sgt. T.A. Smith went to investigate as deputy Andrew Densford was escorting the Huddleston funeral procession and saw a white passenger car fail to observe a semi that was slowing for the procession.

The northbound car struck the semi and crossed into the southbound lane of U.S. 31, deputies said. The driver of that car suffered non-life-threatening injuries and was taken to Columbus Regional Hospital for treatment, deputies said. The driver of the semi was not injured.

Densford stayed at that accident scene while Smith took over the funeral escort, which had 35 vehicles, deputies said.

After stopping traffic at U.S. 31 and State Road 46, Smith continued to the intersection of U.S. 31 and State Road 7, where he stopped traffic with emergency lights and siren in full mode, deputies said.

When traffic had stopped in all directions, he resumed the funeral escort. Just before reaching the roundabout at U.S. 31 and County Road 400S, Smith heard that an accident had occurred at the U.S. 31 and State Road 7 intersection.

Smith went there and saw that a small pickup truck was on the southwest corner of the intersection, and another vehicle was in the traffic lanes on the west side of the intersection. Witnesses told Smith that when the funeral procession was going through the intersection, traveling south on U.S. 31, the pickup truck failed to stop, deputies said.

Funeral procession laws

Indiana’s laws regarding funeral processions are located at IC 9-21-13.

Indiana law provides that a vehicle with lighted headlights in a funeral procession has the right-of-way at an intersection if the procession is headed by a lead or funeral escort vehicle displaying alternately flashing lights or by an emergency vehicle.

A person in a funeral procession:

  • must exercise due caution
  • must follow the car ahead as closely as is practical and safe
  • must illuminate headlights and taillights
  • may display amber lights

Also, the vehicle following the lead vehicle and the last vehicle in the procession have the option of activating hazard warning lights.

It is legal to pass a funeral procession, but only if it can be done safely and on the procession’s left side on a multiple-lane highway.

It is unlawful to interfere with a procession or to join one if you are not part of the funeral, by activating headlights to obtain right-of-way.

— Source: Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.