Governor vows new site for Krystal's memorial

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As chairman of the Board of Transportation, Gov. Kenny Guinn supports the removal of a roadside memorial to a slain 9-year-old South Lake Tahoe girl but has vowed to find a better location for a memorial in her name, his spokesman said Friday.

"The Nevada Department of Transportation has allowed the memorial to be there for a considerable amount of time," said Greg Bortolin, Guinn's press secretary. "The governor does support what's being done here. (The memorial) is not proper, it's a First Amendment issue. It's not safe, it can't be where it's at."

"This issue (of roadside memorials) is going to come before the Board of Transportation, and they are working to develop a policy where we can have specific dedicated sites all over Nevada," Bortolin said. "Gov. Guinn is sensitive to the family and friends of Krystal Steadman, and will work to create a designated area where she will properly be memorialized."

An 8-foot-tall cross sits two miles west of Carson City on Highway 50 West, marking the nearby spot where Krystal's nude body was found March 20, 2000, a day after she disappeared from a Stateline apartment complex.

Father and son, Thomas Robert Soria Sr, 40, and Thomas Robert Soria Jr., 21, were arrested in the murders. Soria Jr., agreed to testify against his father. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced of life without parole. Soria Sr., committed suicide in his Douglas County jail cell one day into his death-penalty murder trial.

A Reno attorney has asked NDOT to remove the cross, citing four grounds on which an unnamed client was prepared to sue the state if it isn't. The grounds include that the memorial is a cross on state land, which they believe violates the separation of church and state, and it's in a state right-of-way which is prohibited by law.

Based on the request, the Nevada Department of Transportation admits it must proceed toward removing the memorial, NDOT spokesman Scott Magruder said.

He said throughout Friday he received more than a half-dozen calls in support of keeping the memorial at its current location, although a majority of those agreed the 2-ton tribute should be smaller.

Krystal's older sister, Sonya Klempner of South Lake Tahoe, said she believes the memorial should stay where it is, but she also doesn't object to it being smaller.

"We want it there, but we do agree that the cross is probably a little large," she said.

Memorial caretaker Gary James said he also isn't opposed to a smaller memorial or the removal of the cross, but points out the memorial reached such a size because it was being vandalized.

"Because people kept tearing it down, what we were trying to do was make it more vandal-proof," he said. "I just don't know why somebody had to go and get a lawyer and gum things up."

James said he was bombarded with phone calls Friday, including one from a Carson City man who asked to remain anonymous but offered to pay any attorney's fees in support of keeping a memorial at the location.

April Arden, 26, a mother of one from Carson City, offered her support to Klempner and James. She said she was shocked to hear anyone would complain about a memorial to a little girl who was so tragically taken.

"I'm glad that it's there, and I'm glad that we remember her. She needs to be remembered. If we forget, we are not going to protect our children as we should," she said. "This affected us all very intensely. Something like that doesn't happen every day, and she needs to be remembered."

Magruder said state officials expect to hold open meetings on the topic of roadside memorials in January.


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