Posted by: project151 | October 16, 2008

Nelson County Times ;”Va. 151: Road to tragedy” Part 1

Screengrab from The Nelson County Times, Virginia 10.15.08 edition

Screengrab from The Nelson County Times, Virginia 10.15.08 edition

The Nelson County Times, weekly newspaper in Virginia began a good series this Wednesday about the number of deaths and increased traffic along Virginia Route 151 in Nelson County, Virginia. This story written by, Erin McGrath, shows history of the road, and cites some good statistics.

P-151 was interviewed for this story a month or so ago and will our comments will most likely appear in future articles.

By Erin McGrath
Published: October 15, 2008

Last year was the deadliest year in a decade for motorists driving the 18-mile stretch of Va. 151 in Nelson County from Route 833 near Brent’s Gap to Route 250 near Avon.

Click here for an online map of Va. 151 and Nelson County

Major factors in Va. 151 wrecks

Driver/Pedestrian handicap – 22
Driver/Pedestrian under influence – 29
Driver Speeding – 36
Driver/Pedestrian inattention – 341
Vehicle Defective – 1
Weather Visibility – 35
Road Slick – 8
Misc – 93

Total: 565 accidents

* Through July 30
Source: Virginia Department of Transportation

Vehicle types in Va. 151 wrecks

Passenger car – 471
Pickup – 232
Van – 58
Straight truck – 25
Tractor-trailer – 28
Bicycle – 2
Motorcycle – 14
Emergency vehicle – 3
Truck-SUV – 77
Truck/tractor only – 1
Not stated – 16
Other – 1
Total – 928

*Through July 30
Source: Virginia Department of Transportation

This piece of highway is home to numerous Nelson County residents and businesses and each year, an average of almost 60 vehicle accidents occur along the road, injuring more than 30 people and killing at least one person.

Until four deaths occurred on Va. 151 last year, no one galvanized a response to stop the problem.

Before then, the most dangerous part was a six-mile stretch between the intersection of Va. 151 and Route 6 West and the intersection of Va. 151 and Route 6 East. An accident occurred there an average of every 318 feet.

The four deaths were the catalyst for safety advocates, lower speed limits and increased traffic enforcement.

The result: As of July 30, only 13 accidents have occurred on Va. 151 this year.

But the volume of motorists, and hence the danger, didn’t increase overnight.

More than 565 accidents occurred along this 18-mile stretch of Va. 151 in the past decade, involving almost 930 vehicles. These accidents occurred mainly on Fridays or Saturdays and between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Tommy Harvey lives and owns a business along this dangerous part of Va. 151 and he said he saw the dynamic of the road staying the same while amount of traffic has increased since the 1970’s. Harvey is also the North District representative to Nelson County’s board of supervisors.

“I drive it everyday,” Harvey said. “There have been no major changes.”

Harvey said in the past 20 years, he could only recall 10 or fewer new entrances being built on Va. 151 from the intersection of Route 6 to Virginia 250.

His business, the Afton Service Center, has been on the corner of Va. 151 and Virginia 840 since 1974.

“We’ve gotten to where we pump more in a day now then we pumped in a week then,” Harvey said.

In 2007, the average amount of daily traffic along Va. 151 from the intersection of Route 6 at Martin’s Store to the intersection of Route 6 at River Road was 6,700 vehicles. In 2000, it was 7,800 and in 1995 it was 5,100. Twenty years before that, in 1975, it was 2,750.

Most of the accidents Harvey has seen occur when a motorist stops on Va. 151 to make a turn, he said.

“We’ve had people turn right in front of somebody and into the station,” Harvey said.

Harvey is also the chief of the Rockfish Valley Volunteer Fire Department and has worked on many of the rescue calls on Va. 151.

“I’ve been out there with my hands in it,” Harvey said. “It makes no difference where you are or what the road is. If you’re not driving (paying attention to) the car, an accident can happen.”

Harvey recalled the accident at the intersection of Va. 151 and Va. 635 that killed a mother and her two daughters in August 2007 as “one of the worst.” Killed were Laura Cavedo and her daughters, Elschen Strickler, 12, and Iliana Strickler, 9. Another woman Gertrude Johnson, 54, died in an accident in October 2007 at Va. 151 and Va. 840.

But he also said there were others that were nearly as bad.

“We had one on the Fourth of July that involved four adults and one child,” Harvey said. “We were literally picking up body parts from the road. Anytime you have a child involved, it’s bad.”

Sgt. Gregory Miller of the Virginia State Police was one of the officers who responded to the multiple accident on Aug. 30, 2007. He called it “one of the most horrific events of my career.”

Miller said the five state troopers assigned to Nelson County have been doing everything they could with the manpower they have to keep the road safe.

“More often than not, we’re shorthanded, though,” Miller said. “There’s all kinds of added responsibilities with this job.”

Virginia’s manpower allocation for state troopers to Nelson County is seven, Miller said, but they have been operating with five for the past 25 years.

In 2005, 74 accidents occurred on the road. That was the year with the most accidents in the past decade, with one person killed and 44 others injured.

Last year was the deadliest and with the most injuries. In the 72 accidents that occurred in 2007, 28 of those wrecks were classified as injury accidents and 46 people were injured.

Forty-four accidents occurred in 1999, causing more than $1.8 million in damage, making it the costliest year in the past decade.

Nelson County Sheriff David Brooks said the road is “a busy route” with most of the traffic coming to and from Wintergreen.

“Of course last year was a horrific year in itself,” Brooks said. “The difference between last year and this year is a world of difference.”

Next week: The August 2007 accident.



  1. Thanks to Nelson County Times……..not Life……for actually looking at this issue without trying to point fingers at Tractor Trailers, and to have some pretty credible statistics. Not just how many trucks they see out the window of their house.

  2. Thanks for your comment Pat. We agree, The Nelson County Times did a great and fair job on this story, thought we just said that in the original post. Erin McGrath is to be complemented for her hard work on this story.

    As for the trucks, you bet it’s relevant to us and hundreds of other folks that live on Route 151. We make no apologizes for it. P-151 has always been fair and true about the statistics, unlike others that idly sit by and do nothing about this growing problem. We have never said that trucks are involved in the majority of accidents, never. However, elected representatives refuse, for whatever reason, to address this situation, meanwhile the truck traffic increases and continues to degrade the quality of life here in Nelson.

    The case could be made that if Nelson economically benefited from transient trucks going through, there might be a valid reason to defend their cutting through from I-64, To the contrary, Nelson doesn’t.

    Again this is not against local businesses that use trucks here in Nelson in their daily work. They obviously must, and should be using 151. We always have and continue to support them.

    As tragic as the past accidents have been, they are nothing in comparison to what’s eventually coming once we have a catastrophic tractor trailer accident on 151, a road that was never designed to be doing what it’s doing today.

    Hazardous materials are constantly being transported along this corridor, that will have a huge area wide impact in an eventual accident that is bound to come.


  3. The Statistics:

    36 out of 565 accidents caused by speed, or about 6%. 341 out 565 caused by inattention, or about 60%. 10 times as many, yet “slow down” is the battle cry. How about “Pay Attention!”

    53 out of 928 vehicles involved in accidents were either semi or large straight trucks. About 5.7 %.

    854 out of 928 vehicles were either passenger cars, pickup trucks, SUV’s, and motorcycles. A whopping 92% Truckers are a drug-tested sober species. Why the witch-hunt on truckers?

    Wanna save lives? Nab the distracted car/pickup/SUV driver on the text message.

    The statistics don’t lie.

    Dave Campbell

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