New York State Funeral Directors Association

It’s almost amazing, but more rightly troubling, what occurs during funeral processions.

There’s always an uproar in the media, and in the local diner, after police get involved in a family’s funeral procession.

Take the recent case of the Alexandria, VA police officer named Seth Weinstein who pulled over a guy who, before getting in his car, just got done serving as a pallbearer for his great-grandmother’s funeral.

Weinstein is pretty much alone in his lack of respect for a funeral procession, and it’s not surprising if you read up on him.

The long-time police officer was lauded a decade ago for booking 100 DWI arrests during each of the first five years he served as a cop in Alexandria.

His roadway arrest count amounted to one-third of all the entire Alexandria Police Department’s annual DWI arrest tally, landing Weinstein the unofficial title, “DWI King.”

More often than not, people think it’s a bad thing to disrupt the trip survivors take to mourn the loss of a loved one.

Disturbing a funeral procession bothered one guy so much he sent a letter to the editor of The Cherokee Ledger-News of Georgia in December, 2013, saying, in part: “I wasn't trying to be disrespectful. I'm so sorry if I dishonored your loved one.”

Respect for Funeral Processions

A show of respect for a funeral procession prompted a letter to the Fayetteville Observer: “The young people stopped playing ball and stood with caps removed while we passed. It is great to see at least some young people still show some respect,” the writer exclaimed in the 2008 letter.

Different places have different laws on the books related to funeral processions. Some don’t have any laws governing motorist behavior in and around a funeral motorcade, and to me that means common sense should win out.

Common sense, in my completely reasonable opinion, states that disturbing a funeral procession is universally bad behavior that will lead to bad karma.

In North Carolina, it’s illegal for a driver to pass a funeral procession if you’re headed in the same direction. There’s no statewide law on the books in New York.

We do have motorists who share officer Weinstein’s lack of respect for funeral processions, evidenced by a letter one guy wrote to the Albany Times Union after a funeral: “. . . a car even cut in behind the hearse and family car, causing others in the procession to almost rear-end each other on icy roads.”

The Syracuse Post-Standard, back in 1998, had a matter-of-fact list of recent car accidents that spelled out the scene: a 27 year-old who had the right of way at a green light plowed into a 61 year-old motorist who was running a red light as part of a funeral procession.

A year before that, a Newsday story outlined how a 43 year-old relative of the deceased wound up getting charged with inciting a riot and obstructing governmental administration. The incident followed a police officer’s decision to pull over a car in a funeral procession.

Apparently, 25 cars in the funeral procession stopped too. They all got out of the car and you can just picture the scene that followed.

List of Funeral Procession Mishaps

Recent history is awash with interesting examples of happenings during funeral processions. Unfortunately, some have been deadly. Here’s a list of funeral procession mishaps over the last 25 years, courtesy of Newsbank and my Schenectady County Public Library membership:

  • 1990 Florida: Police investigate a fracas that developed when a motorist unintentionally crashed into one of the funeral procession cars and was beaten by angry mourners. Sun Sentinel
  • 1990 San Francisco: Funeral procession underway for man who was killed accidentally during a police chase—and two rival gangs begin a shootout. 20 shots fired, nobody injured. “As the procession moved on, police Sergeant Ike Henry said, about 200 people threw rocks and bottles at each other near the Sunnydale housing project at Sunnydale Avenue and Hahn Street.” San Francisco Chronicle
  • 1991 Brooklyn, NY: “What was to have been a solemn occasion for the family of a black child whose death last week triggered riots in Brooklyn turned into a rally Monday as racial tensions continue to simmer.” Times Union
  • 1991 Syracuse, NY: “a 17-year-old Fulton youth lost control of his car near the intersection of Routes 481 and 57 and collided with a funeral procession en-route to Riverside Cemetery.” Syracuse Post-Standard
  • 1992 Watertown, NY: “A pickup crashed into a funeral procession Friday, killing four relatives of the man being buried, including his widow, and injuring six others, authorities said.” Watertown Daily Times
  • 1992 Florida: Motorcycle officer William Jacob suffers hand and chest injuries after a car in a funeral procession swerved into him. Sun-Sentinel
  • 1997 Guilderland, NY: “A two-car crash in a funeral procession last week has renewed calls for changing state laws to offer special protection for funeral caravans.” Times Union
  • 1997 Syracuse, NY: “Two people were hurt when two vehicles that were part of a funeral procession collided.” Syracuse Post-Standard
  • 1998 Albany, NY: “A Wynantskill man said on March 19, while he was in his wife's funeral procession, a man drove by on his right side several times, nearly collided with him at a high rate of speed and passed red lights at intersections. The man also reportedly drove onto the sidewalk to pass and finally did so along Pawling Avenue.” Times Union
  • 1999 Tennessee: The Greeneville Sun reported “A Monday afternoon traffic accident involving a funeral procession in Greeneville — coupled with a court decision that found the City of Chattanooga liable for damages stemming from a similar wreck — could threaten the long-standing police practice of escorting funeral processions here.” Greeneville Sun
  • 1999 North Carolina: “A sheriff's deputy was treated for minor injuries after his motorcycle collided with a car during a funeral procession Saturday.” Fayetteville Observer
  • 2000 Flatbush, NY: “Fury over the police shooting of Patrick Dorismond erupted at his funeral yesterday as protesters hurled bottles, rocks and metal barricades at riot cops and burned the American flag.” New York Post
  • 2001 Springfield, MA: “The funeral procession for former state Rep. Iris K. Holland was the scene of two traffic accidents that sent three Springfield police officers to the hospital yesterday.” The Union-News
  • 2001 Port Arthur, PA: “An off-duty Beaumont police officer was hospitalized in critical condition Tuesday after his motorcycle struck another vehicle during a funeral procession.” The Beaumont Enterprise
  • 2002 Miami, FL: “A Broward Sheriff's Office deputy escorting a funeral procession down U.S. 441 was injured Saturday afternoon after his cruiser swerved to avoid hitting a truck that pulled out in front of him.” Miami Herald
  • 2002 Brooklyn, NY: “It was a funeral procession that ended in death. One of the mourners, a 66-year-old man from Brooklyn, was killed last May when he drove through a stop sign while in a line of about 25 cars headed for Long Island's Center Moriches Cemetery.” Times Union
  • 2004 North Carolina: A motorcyclist heading up a funeral procession popped a wheelie, fell backwards and started fighting with rescuers who responded to the scene. Several were charged after the “near riot” that followed in uptown Whiteville. The News Reporter
  • 2007 Pinckneyville, IL: “Four vehicles damaged during funeral procession: Four vehicles were damaged as a result of rear-ending accidents during a funeral procession.” Two separate, two-car accidents, same funeral procession. Southern Illinoisan
  • 2008 Bridgeport, CT: “The teenager and police motorcycle officer who collided during a funeral procession last month have been cleared of possible charges, with police investigators saying there are traffic-safety lessons to be learned from both perspectives.” Connecticut Post
  • 2008 Houston, TX: “A Harris County deputy constable is at Memorial Hermann-The Texas Medical Center with a broken arm after his motorcycle collided with a car Thursday during a funeral procession.” Houston Chronicle
  • 2008 Miami, FL: 18 year-old steals hearse outside a church, nearly runs over a deputy who shoots him in the leg. Miami Herald
  • 2009 Hackensack, NJ: “At least two police officers were injured, one seriously, when their motorcycles crashed during a funeral procession for the daughter of the Old Tappan police chief, authorities said.” The Record
  • 2011 Pasadena, TX: “[Sgt. Matt] Novotny, 52, was seriously injured on Dec. 12 while escorting a funeral procession.” Houston Chronicle
  • 2011 Watertown, NY: “More than 100 tow truck drivers and their vehicles joined a procession to see off one of their own after driver Todd Young was killed on the Thruway.” Watertown Daily Times
  • 2012 Las Vegas, NV: “A Las Vegas police officer was seriously injured after the motorcycle he was driving was struck by a government vehicle during a funeral procession Saturday, authorities said.” Las Vegas Review-Journal
  • 2014 Boston, MA: Authorities say family tension may have led rapper Benzino’s nephew to start shooting at him during a funeral procession headed to a church in Plymouth, MA. Boston Herald

The moral to this story: watch where you’re going and wear your seat belt whether you're in a funeral procession or not.

EdsPhotoEd Munger
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association