Lawsuit threatens memorial to slain girl |

Lawsuit threatens memorial to slain girl

by F.T. Norton

A memorial cross near Spooner Summit to a slain South Lake Tahoe girl may be taken down after transportation officials have been threatened with a lawsuit if it remains standing.

The eight-foot tall cross, two miles west of Carson City on Highway 50 West, marks the nearby spot where the brutalized body of Krystal Steadman, 9, was found March 20, 2000.

The fourth-grader was abducted, raped and murdered March 19, 2000 from the Lakeview Apartments in Stateline by father and son, Thomas Robert Soria Sr. and Thomas Robert Soria Jr. Soria Sr., 40, committed suicide at the start of his death penalty trial. Soria Jr., now 21, is serving life in a Nevada prison.

The first memorial, an impromptu pile of mementos near the highway’s shoulder, was removed by highway workers. Then a wooden cross with a plaque was stolen in November.

Volunteers tried to foil the vandals by setting a 5-foot cross in concrete, but somebody tried to chop it down with a chain saw.

On March 2, 2002, the existing metal cross, weighing 2 tons, was lifted onto the site with a crane and welded in place.

Recently, people opposing the cross and its placement have been making their feelings known to the Nevada Department of Transportation which maintains state highways.

In an Aug. 15, 2002 letter to NDOT, Reno attorney Robert Angres detailed an unnamed client’s opposition to the cross: it is an establishment of religion, it is on the roadside without a permit, it is distracting to motorists and its presence decreases the scenic value of the area.

“It is important that such a monument be relocated and not stand as an irritant to persons who will constantly be concerned that the vital precepts under which this country was founded and has progressed, are being disregarded out of well-intentioned, but nonetheless inappropriate motives,” Angres wrote.

In a letter from Angres dated Sept. 30, 2003, he expressed displeasure that the cross still remained and said the next step would be to take legal action.

“We will have to assume that we have not been dealt with in the forthright fashion which we had been led to believe we could rely upon, and proceed to open Pandora’s Box with ample legal tools at our disposal,” Angres wrote.

Scott Magruder, state transportation spokesman, said his department has no choice but to remove the memorial.

“NDOT has been sensitive to the issues of crosses and memorials in the right-of-way. Because of the sheer size of this cross, we’ve heard from a number of individuals that did not want it in our right-of-way, and since nothing should be in our right-of-way, we have no other choice,” he said.

Magruder said the department allowed the cross because of the sensitive nature of the incident, but it is there illegally, and his department has no provisions to permit such memorials.

“We do want to hear from people at a public hearing. We need to come up with some kind of policy for all placements of memorial crosses,” he said. Open meetings are expected to be held statewide in January.

Some of the people who have complained to the state have also told Magruder they aren’t comfortable with the memorial because it’s a reminder of Krystal’s death.

John Messina of Silver Springs expressed that same sentiment.

“It sets a bad precedent. It’s distracting. To me it’s negative. I like to go by to see the beauty of the scenery, not be reminded to the death of a kid,” he said.

Messina noted he is also opposed to the fact that the memorial is a cross.

“It’s bad enough that they have a memorial there, but it’s a slight to all of the other religions too.”

Messina said he would have less of an objection if the memorial was “more subtle and non-religious.”

But Gary James of Carson City, who came to the aid of the family when the first two memorials disappeared, said he sees the memorial and its value as much more than a reminder of Krystal’s death.

“It’s a memorial to all the children that have been killed in any way and a reminder for people to watch out for their kids,” he said. “What’s offensive about that?”

Following a meeting Thursday afternoon with a state engineer, James said it seems certain that Krystal’s memorial will be removed. He is considering detaching the cross from its concrete casing and leaving just the plaque at the site.

“If I can’t find another lawyer that’s sympathetic to this case, it’s coming down,” he said. “I’m hoping for supportive public reaction, because the people who respect the memorial aren’t the ones who are calling.

“I care for a little girl who never had a chance, that I never even knew.”