Yes, they're controversial, those roadside memorials placed 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 road 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, and 20-year-old Jessica Liparini.

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 do 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 Nicole, Jessica 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."

FEDEX EXPRESS just awarded 24 employees across the nation for service beyond the call, and Steven Morris was one of them.

The Santa Rosa courier planned to take time off to be with his family on the day of his sister's funeral. But come the day of the service, he learned that several fellow drivers had called in sick and that 51 packages looked to go undelivered.

FedEx said he excused himself from the family gathering, delivered all the parcels and finished in time to make his sister's funeral.

BOTH SARA AND JULIA? Already there's something historic about the Healdsburg Wine Country Half-Marathon, and the Halloween-themed road run is still six days away.

Sara Bei Hall, the Montgomery alum and one of the finest runners ever to tie her laces in Sonoma County, will make her half-marathon debut there. And fellow North Bay track legend, Santa Rosa High alum Julia Stamps Mallon, is helping to put the run on.

But wait, there's more. Sara's husband, Olympic marathon runner Ryan Hall, will speak at the sold-out race's dinner on Friday at Trione Winery in Geyserville.

Ryan finished a most impressive 10th in the marathon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. An injury forced him out of the marathon at last year's Olympiad in London.

On Nov. 3, he'll compete as one of the favorites in the ING New York City Marathon.

Sara and Julia, you will recall, both ran as All-Americans at Stanford. Sara, a three-time Olympic finalist, has chosen as her first half-marathon the Healdsburg race and Wine Country expo by Sonoma resident Matt Dockstader's Destination Races.

And Julia, who has lived and run all around the country, has found her bliss by returning to Sonoma County and helping Dockstader to make wine-themed half-marathons memorable.