WEST GREENWICH, R.I. (WPRI) ─ The family and friends of a man who died following a serious crash on I-95 last summer is demanding answers from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation after a memorial they set up for him at the crash site was taken down without warning.
Gadge Mello, 19, was driving on I-95 North when he lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a tree. Mello succumbed to his injuries at the hospital the next day.
Mello’s mother, Jessica Sinclair, reached out to 12 News after hearing that RIDOT had recently dismantled another family’s roadside memorial as well.
Sinclair said she first learned the memorial was taken down when her son’s friend reached out to her.
“It was devastating,” she said. “It was like he was still being tortured after his death ─ tortured for something he couldn’t control.”
Bobby Correia, whose son was friends with Mello, also reached out to 12 News after he said he saw crews parked near the memorial site last week.
Once he’d realized the memorial had been removed, he reached out to several state agencies, including RIDOT and the Rhode Island State Police, to find out where it went and why.
“It may not mean something to somebody, but to them those items were very important,” Correia said. “I really wanted to track them down for them.”
Correia eventually connected with RIDOT’s East Greenwich office, which had the memorial. He said the employees there told him they’d received “a direct order from the government to pick those items up.”
The governor’s office denies any involvement in this matter.
Correia said what’s most frustrating is the employees at the facility seemed to have a clear understanding of what happened, but everyone he spoke with by phone didn’t have a definitive answer.
12 News reached out to RIDOT regarding Correia’s concerns.
A spokesperson for the state agency said Mello’s memorial, as well as the memorial created for James Northup, were both taken down because they were considered safety hazards.
In a statement regarding Mello’s memorial, the spokesperson said: “The memorial in question had been in place for several weeks and the items shown in the photo were all badly deteriorated, indicating to us that is was no longer being maintained. Also, a large auto part weighing in excess of 40 pounds was left at the site, creating a hazard.”
“RIDOT tries to be sensitive to the needs of grieving families and friends while complying Federal Highway Administration safety regulations that protect motorists,” the statement continued. “The department’s policy allows these memorials to remain in place until they either have been up for an extended period of time, and clearly are not being attended to, or that they create a public safety hazard.”
Correia disputes RIDOT’s claim that the memorial wasn’t being maintained.
“I think it was in fine shape,” he said. “The fact that they said it wasn’t being taken care of…is kind of mind blowing, because it wasn’t there that long. It wasn’t an old memorial, it was still very fresh. The wounds are still very fresh, especially for the family.”
Mello’s mother tells 12 News she wishes RIDOT had contacted her before taking the memorial down so she could’ve picked up the items herself.
“I don’t really care if the stuff goes back up, I just don’t think it was right the way that they did it,” Sinclair said. “It was almost like they were doing it under wraps, like it was secret.”