Posted by: project151 | November 28, 2007

Media Watch: Head-on Collision @ Rt. 151 and Rockfish School Ln

The local media’s talking about yesterday’s wreck:

1) Michael Owens has a piece in this morning’s News Virginian.


NELLYSFORD – The most recent major collision on Virginia 151 in Nelson County could help fan the flames on an already heated debate about the road being a death trap.

A collision Tuesday morning between a 1-ton flatbed truck swerving to avoid stopped traffic and an oncoming van landed three people at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville.

The two people in the crushed van are listed in critical condition, authorities report.

Rescuers marveled that everyone survived.

“If you didn’t have air bags and seatbelts, there would have been two fatalities,” said Tommy Harvey, county board of supervisors member and a volunteer firefighter on the scene Tuesday.

The wreck happened nearly half-a-mile south of the spot where an Aug. 30 crash killed Laura Cavedo and her daughters, Elschen Strickler, 12, and Iliana Strickler, 9. As Cavedo waited to turn off VA-151, a box truck rear-ended her car, which went into oncoming traffic.

Tuesday’s wreck also happened nearly five miles away from the site of the Oct. 2 crash that killed Gertrude Ann Johnson, 54, of Nellysford. She died when a car in the opposite lane swerved across the double-solid center line, authorities said.

Frustrated motorists reacted by forming Project 151, which calls for touhger law enforcement while banning trucks along portions of VA-151 and connecting VA-6.

The crashes also sparked state reviews of the heavily traveled road. Reduced speed limits and increased law enforcement are among ideas currently being mulled by a Virginia Department of Transportation committee made of engineers, county officials and citizens.

Thus far, blame for all wrecks has landed on driver inattention.

“They’ve confirmed that the roads had nothing to do with” the fatalities, said Kevin Wright, assistant district administrator for VDOT.

Project 151 co-organizer Tommy Stafford, a former policeman who lives close to where the triple fatality happened, argues that the driver-inattention label is an oversimplification.

“I think that’s a cop out,” he said. “… You cannot excuse the fact that there’s been a tremendous increase in the number of accidents” in recent years. Only increased law enforcement can counter the inflating traffic and truck volume, he said.

Virginia State Police Trooper M.H. Birckhead blamed Tuesday’s wreck on “driver inattention.”

He theorized that truck driver Wallace Hart Beckner II, 53, had his eyes on the road shoulder, where a state trooper was inspecting a truck.

Beckner, of Rockbridge-Bath, was northbound when he approached two vehicles stopped for a left turn, Virginia State Police report.

His flatbed clipped the rear fender of the truck stopped immediately in front of him at the Rockfish School Lane intersection and then skidded into oncoming traffic.

The flatbed shoved the 1988 Chevy van’s engine block into the area occupied by driver George Ferreira, 24, of Waynesboro, and passenger John Simmons, 31.

“I’m getting tired of seeing people doing this – driving and not paying attention,” Birckhead said.

To be clear, supports a long range plan to ban through trucks, not all trucks as the line in the eighth paragraf might imply.

2) Carrie J. Sidener filed this report for the Lynchburg News & Advance:

Wreck injures 2 at Va. 151 junction

By Carrie J. Sidener

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Two men are in critical condition after a wreck on Virginia 151 at the same intersection where an Afton woman and her two daughters died in a car crash three months ago.

George Ferreira and his passenger John Simmons, both from Waynesboro, were seriously injured when the van they were riding in was struck head on by a pickup truck Tuesday, said Sgt. David Cooper of the Virginia State Police. Both are hospitalized at the University of Virginia Medical Center.

The accident happened around 10:20 a.m. on Virginia 151 in Nelson County at the intersection of Virginia 635, also known as Rockfish School Lane.

There have been five fatalities this fall in that corridor, which commonly is used as a cut-through between U.S. 29 and Interstate 64. On Aug. 30, an Afton mother and her two daughters died after their car was hit by a box truck traveling behind them as she was making the turn onto Virginia 635.

Tommy Stafford, team leader of Project 151, a group working to improve safety on Virginia 151 and Virginia 6, said there was a minor accident up the road from this one over the holiday weekend.

“It’s an older rural two-lane state highway that was engineered decades ago when this was a sleepy little valley,” Stafford said.

Now the valley is home to residential and tourism growth, Stafford said. That is adding significant strain on the roadway.
In Tuesday’s accident, a van was stopped in the northbound lane waiting to make a left turn, Cooper said. Behind it was a 1991 International truck with a tank holding liquid fertilizer.

Wallace Hart Beckner II of Rockbridge was driving a 1997 Ford F350 northbound when he came across the stopped vehicles and couldn’t brake in time, Cooper said. He swerved to the left, clipped the back of the International truck, and traveled into oncoming traffic in the southbound lane, striking Ferreira’s 1988 Chevrolet work van head on.

Ferriera, 24, and Simmons, 31, are co-workers, as are Beckner and the driver of the International truck, Joel Patrick Senger.
The accident is still under investigation and troopers are not sure why Beckner could not stop in time. He has been charged with reckless driving.

“If he had gone to the right to just rear-ended the other vehicle, they would have been much better off,” Cooper said.

Nelson County Supervisor Tommy Harvey and County Administrator Steve Carter have asked the Virginia Department of Transportation to add a left-turn lane on Virginia 151 to access Virginia 635.

“The goal of this organization is to keep the flame and the heat burning to make sure these things are getting done,” said Stafford, of Project 151. “We have had tragic losses of life, but we are lucky we haven’t had a catastrophic loss. The longer we go the more likely it is to happen.”

The organization says rural, two-lane highways, without median dividers aren’t suitable for the “interstate-style traffic” that is using the roads as cut-through.

“Putting in one turn lane and possibly adjusting the speed limit for a stretch of two to three miles of the highway is not a permanent answer,” Stafford wrote on the organization’s Web site. “It’s a Band-Aid.”

The location of the accident is worth clarifying. The first line of the story is misleading:

Two men are in critical condition after a wreck on Virginia 151 at the same intersection where an Afton woman and her two daughters died in a car crash three months ago.

The two wrecks happened at different intersections. The Cavedo wreck occurred at Rt. 151 @ Rt. 635 (Greenfield Road). Yesterday’s wreck happened at Rt. 151 @ Rt. 635 (Rockfish School Lane). Since both Rockfish School Lane and Greenfield Road are considered Rt. 635, we can see how one would think the intersections are the same.


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