Traffic control funeral business forced to shut down

HARLINGEN — Local funeral home directors are wondering who will help them with their future funeral processions.

This question comes days after the business they always turned to for traffic control for their processions was shut down.

Last week local law enforcement officials told Valley Escorts to stop their service or face penalties.

It appears Valley Escorts was operating illegally for some time, so local police made contact with the business.

According to state law only police officers, crossing guards and road workers can stop traffic.

“I’m going to be left with nothing and no one,” said Elideth Rojas, Harlingen Rudy Garza Funeral home director. “I don’t know where to turn to now.”

One of the problems, Harlingen and San Benito police departments do not offer escorts to and from the funeral homes to the cemeteries.

Because of the recent developments, Rojas fears the tradition of escort services for funeral processions will soon be a thing of the past.

Rojas said Valley Escorts was a business that had been in Harlingen for more than 15 years and never had any issues until last week when it was shut down from one day to the next.

Rojas said funeral processions have been a standing tradition during her 25 years of service.

“It’s part of the heritage and tradition as well,” Rojas said. “It’s just a matter of time that a funeral comes up, and how do I explain that to families?”

Rojas said the last time they used Valley Escort was on Sept. 10 and they were notified on Sept. 14 they we closing down.

Valley Escorts owner Tony Jimenez said he purchased the business in 2000 and has been operating successfully ever since.

“Right now we cannot do them (escorts), they want us to be police officers,” Jimenez said. “I was told if I do any escorts I will get into trouble.”

Yesterday, Sandra Garza, Rudy Garza funeral director, was not sure if she would be able to send Felicitas Flores Resendez from the funeral home to the church without an escort.

Garza said she was worried she would be liable if there were any traffic accidents during yesterday’s funeral procession.

Normally, Valley Escorts would have helped with the escort like it has for many years for area funeral homes from Donna to San Benito.

“We called the Mercedes Police department twenty minutes before we left and they were there,” Garza said. “She said the police department did not charge the family for the escort.”

Mercedes police told Garza officers would provide the escort. However, if an emergency call came in during the procession they would have to leave immediately.

Garza said Valley Escorts on the other hand normally charged a standard rate of $250 and sometimes charged less or nothing at all for families who could not afford the service.

Harlingen Police Department deputy chief Hector Leal was contacted recently by the district attorney’s office to educate funeral homes about who can and can’t stop traffic.

Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz said, “Non-law enforcement officers do not have the authority to obstruct a highway or a passageway.”

Saenz said there is no applicable state law stopping a funeral procession, but there are some cities that govern funeral procession escorts.

“It’s an issue of legality, it’s an issue of safety and it’s an issue of liability,” Saenz said. “They (Valley Escorts) are trying to act like a peace officer and they have no authority to stop traffic.”

Saenz said state law does not authorize a citizen to control traffic in any way.

Hugo Cano, Sunset Memorial Funeral Home director, said Brownsville PD charges $300 and they provide two units for processions from the funeral home to the church and church to the cemetery.

“Every once in a while, the sheriffs’ department will help us out and they donate their time,” Cano said. “The constables also donate their services to us when we ask them considering they are available.”