Yes, they're controversial, those roadside memorials placed near the spots where loved ones were lost to crashes.

I understand concerns about the crosses and other monuments proliferating and perhaps posing hazards of their own. But can you imagine anyone taking it upon himself to pluck up and haul off memorials that have stood for years in honor of young people who died far too soon?

Cindy Mattson of Rohnert Park is heartbroken and incredulous that the stainless steel memorial to her 17-year-old daughter, Nicole, and a second young woman has been removed from alongside Valley Ford Road.

"They just took everything," Cindy said.

The sculpture of twin crosses was well off the highway in the area where a horrendous, three-vehicle crash caused by an inexperienced teen boy on Labor Day of 2004 killed Nicole, a softball star at Rancho Cotate High School, and 20-year-old Jessica Liparini of Petaluma.

Whoever ripped out the memorial left a handwritten, laminated note that tries to sound official. It declares, "This structure has been removed by the S.M.C.R.A. Safe Motor Cycle Riders Association.

"The structure is illegal and dangerous. Consider a motorcycle from either direction hitting an ice patch and sliding out of control. Or a police officer enroute to a call at high speed.

"We are sure the persons who erected this had not thought about this and surely to not want this to happen.

"Numerous attempts have been left here asking for removal. Please do not re-erect."

Nicole Mattson's mother said that as far as she can tell, this was the first communique from whomever removed the memorial sculpture.

And she's aware that a nearly identical note was left at the spot along Highway 128 near Winters where someone has hauled off a memorial to Santa Rosa-born Tim Casson, 25, a former Montgomery High student killed in a 2002 crash caused by a drunken driver.

The monuments for both Nicole and Tim had been in place for years when they were plucked up and carted off. Said an anguished Cindy Mattson, "I would just like to have the crosses back."