Plaque for fallen CHP officers
A plaque at the California Highway Patrol office in Santa Maria memorializes the sacrifice of Officers Rick Stovall and Britt Irvine, who died on Highway 166 in 1998. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

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Question: What happened to the memorial on Highway 166 east of Santa Maria? Two California Highway Patrol officers were swept away in a washout of the highway.
— Bob McNall, Santa Barbara

For those who don’t know the story, on Feb. 24, 1998, a deluge of rain turned the Cuyama River into a raging monster as the swift-moving channel washed out a large chunk of Highway 166.

In the middle of the night, Santa Maria-based California Highway Patrol Officers Rick Stovall and Britt Irvine were responding to reports of motorists in distress and drove off the missing segment of roadway.

In addition to the officers, a Nipomo man died; his body was never recovered. Two other men were lucky to be rescued.

For years, a large cross and other mementos sat at the spot as well-maintained memorials to the CHP officers.

Details about the fate of the Irvine-Stovall roadside memorials remain uncertain, although in 2003 Caltrans announced plans to remove them.

Caltrans spokesman Jim Shivers recently said the agency acknowledges roadside memorials and their importance to family members and friends.

“After an appropriate time, these memorials are removed from the state right of way,” Shivers said.

“Their removal has more to do with our need to access a particular location to perform maintenance or construction activities. The memorials/items would be held at the nearest Caltrans maintenance facility if there is a wish to retrieve it.”

Typically, Caltrans requires an encroachment permit for anything to be placed in the right of way.

Caltrans also would remove any memorial causing a distraction to motorists, Shivers added.

Drivers still get reminders about the fallen officers since the segment of Highway 166 between Highways 101 and 33 has been named the “CHP Officers Irvine and Stovall Memorial Highway,” with standard Caltrans signs at each end of the route keeping their memories alive.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at