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For more information, please contact District communications Manager Nicole Thieret at 573.380.5305.

April 10, 2017 09:47 AM
Family Tradegy Inspires Volunteers, Clean Highways
Adopt-A-Highway Program Celebrates 30 Years

SIKESTON— Rebecca Tosarello and her family and friends come together four times a year to celebrate her sister, Rachel Marie (Allen) Brown, by picking up trash. While that may sound strange, Tosarello looks forward to each event as a tribute to the life of her sister.

“My sister Rachel was one beautiful girl on the inside and out. She lived each day to the fullest and was always up for an adventure,” says Tosarello. “She loved spending time with family and friends. She was an incredible mother and her daughter, Katelyn, was her pride and joy.”

Tosarello and her family have adopted a stretch of highway on Route 34/72 in Cape Girardeau County as a way to honor Rachel’s life.

Rachel had made dinner plans with her parents on Aug. 23, 2014. She planned to make a roast and needed a few ingredients for the meal. Rachel, Katelyn and a friend were making their way home from the store when tragedy struck.

Tosarello was making her way from Tennessee to Missouri following a business trip that day. On the way, she received a text alert from KFVS12 about an auto accident outside of Jackson, Mo. Saying a quick prayer for those involved, she didn’t realize at the time that her sister, niece and a friend were involved in that accident.

While Katelyn and their friend survived the crash, Rachel did not. The other driver had blacked out and hit them head-on. Rebecca, Katelyn and the rest of Rachel’s family mourned their incredible loss.

“A few months after Rachel’s accident, my husband suggested our family adopt a highway in honor of Rachel,” said Tosarello. “I thought it was a fabulous idea and contacted the Missouri Department of Transportation and learned the highway where Rachel’s accident had taken place was available for adoption.”

She suggested the idea to her parents, and they agreed this would be a momentous way to honor and remember her little sister. They adopted Route 34/72 from County Road 438 to Route 34 in Cape Girardeau County at the end of 2014.

Now nine years old, Katelyn actively recruits family and friends to assist in the clean-up efforts. “She likes to make it fun and looks at is like a treasure hunt,” said Tosarello. “She tells people that you never know what you’re going to find while you’re picking up trash!”

Tosarello and her family organize four events each year where they get together and reminisce about Rachel. She says the support they have received from family and friends truly touches her heart each time they organize a clean-up.

Tosarello uses Facebook to organize the pick-up dates and invites anyone who wants to help. The group meets before the clean-up to give everyone a chance to introduce themselves and review the safety guidelines. At that point, they get to work. After the clean-up is completed, the group celebrates with homemade treats and drinks. She added that each year they also celebrate after a clean-up with a picnic in the park.

Adopting this highway has not only been a wonderful way for their family to remember Rachel, but they are also keeping Missouri highways clean and beautiful.

“This year marks the 30th anniversary for the Adopt-A-Highway program,” said Mark Shelton, MoDOT’s Southeast District Engineer. “We are thrilled to have 903 adopter groups in the Southeast District. Each has a special reason for adopting and the Allen family is truly a special group.”

Shelton says that MoDOT spends about $6 million each year to remove litter along more than 385,000 acres of roadsides along 34,000 state highway miles. He says that stories like Rachel’s inspire other families, organizations and companies to join in the efforts.

“If there are other families or organizations thinking about adopting a highway, I encourage them to adopt because it’s been a very rewarding experience,” says Tosarello. “MoDOT is exceptional to work with, they supply the trash bags and dispose of them as well. It’s a great way to honor my sister and keep our state clean.”

Not only will Rachel Marie’s family continue to honor her life through the Adopt-A-Highway program, but Tosarello has honored her in another special way. “In September of 2016, my husband and I had our first child, Rachel Vegas,” says Tosarello. “Of course, she was named after my sister, even her middle name. The last ‘sister trip’ Rachel and I took together was in Las Vegas.”

MoDOT would like to thank each adopter group for their support of the Adopt-A-Highway program. For more information and to learn how to participate, visit www.nomoretrash.org or call 1-888-ASK-MODOT (1-888-275-6636) or District Communications Manager Nicole Thieret at (573) 380-5305.

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