PALM BAY, Fla. — A Palm Bay family still mourning the loss of one of their own is now fighting for the future of a memorial erected in his honor.
- Zach Caufield, 19, killed after accidentally driving into canal on January 1
- Water Control District calls for memorial to be taken down following resident complaint
- Family collecting signatures on petition to keep memorial
- More Brevard County stories
On January 1, 2019, 19-year-old Zach Caufield died after he accidentally drove into a canal on Hoffer Avenue and Deedra Street.
According to Caufield's family members, he was driving at night, and at the time the street light wasn't working properly. However, the family also believes there isn't enough signage at the site to indicate the road doesn't go straight.
In fact, one of Caufield's friends drove into the very same canal a few months prior to Caufield's death, but responders were able to reach him in time to save his life.
Sister Joslyn Vipperman said her brother was leaving a friend's house that night and was unfamiliar with the road. The lack of signage did not help.
“Instead of turning left, he went straight because there is no warnings,” Vipperman said.
A place to mourn
Shortly after Caufield's death, family and friends set up a memorial at the site to have a place to mourn while trying to grasp that he was never coming home again.
Then, on March 19, The Melbourne-Tillman water control district board of directors put up a sign at the location stating the memorial is prohibited and needed to be taken down in 30 days. After calling the city, the family learned the sign was posted after a resident complained about the memorial.
Family members we spoke to who were upset by the turn of events pointed out that the memorial does not block any right-of-way, and the resident who complained lives over a mile away, so the site is not even in his neighborhood.
“Somebody telling us they want to rip this cross out in 30 days is like ripping my heart out," Vipperman told us. "This is the last thing of my brother I really have.”
Starting a petition
For the past two weeks, the family has fought to keep the memorial in place for a few more months — ideally a year — to provide loved ones time to mourn at the canal.
Caufield's grandfather, Frank, is gathering signatures to show to the county that his grandson's memorial cross is welcomed by the community, and shouldn't be taken down because of one complaint from a man who lives in another neighborhood.
“I think it's terrible when one person files a complaint and it impacts a family and the community the way it does," Frank explained. "We've walked through this community for two weeks now and haven't received one negative comment. They are all on board with our petition and have more than one hundred signatures."
In addition, Vipperman told us someone else not only trimmed the grass around the memorial, but also added two seats.
We did speak to the man who filed the complaint. He told us he did it because he finds the cross offensive and thinks the memorial is unsightly.