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Wheatland fatal: Concerns over intersection date back to 1987

Updated: Thursday, August 15 2013, 11:11 AM EDT

Wheatland, N.Y. -- Neighbors and Town leaders in Wheatland have expressed concerns about the intersection of Route 36 (Riga Mumford Road) and North Road since the mid-1980's.

13WHAM News obtained a June 1987 letter from the Wheatland Town Board to the New York State Department of Transportation asking that the DOT "install flashing caution signals at the intersection...and to further consider reconstruction of the aforementioned intersection."

The exact cause of the crash that happened around 11:40 a.m. Tuesday is still under investigation. Preliminarily, Monroe County Sheriff's Office Deputies state that a Jeep Wranger was headed Eastbound on North Road, stopped at the sign, then proceeded into the intersection where a tractor trailer traveling Southbound on Route 36 struck it.

Captain Michael Fowler said at the scene on Tuesday that the truck driver had no time to react and that drugs and alcohol don't appear to be a factor at all. Distracted driving and other possible causes are still under investigation but early on Captain Fowler said Tuesday, "at this point we have no reason to determine that, we're going to be investigating that."

Two Caledonia natives in that Jeep Wrangler were killed in Tuesday's Crash. Three more were injured. The truck driver was not injured and is credited with trying to help the victims at the scene.

2010 Concerns Over Intersection Expressed

As a senior at Cal-Mum Amanda Young's project for a government course involved writing local or state leaders about something they want to see changed. She chose the intersection of Route 36 and North Road as something she wanted to see changed.

"I've grown up there for 21 years now and it's an awful intersection so many people have died there," recalled Amanda Young of that decision three years ago.

Young's letter went to the Town of Wheatland board and supervisor, the board then requested the New York State DOT investigate the intersection. "We feel that the traffic conditions at that intersection pose a threat to public safety," a June 2010 letter signed by Wheatland Town Supervisor Linda Donson stated.

The DOT responded with a letter dated July 15, 2010. In it Regional Traffic Engineer David Goehring stated that from July 2007 to January 2010 there were six documented "right angle type accidents." Five of those involved vehicles traveling eastbound and southbound. The letter also stated that, "sight distance was determined to be limited for a motorist looking northerly."

The DOT's response went on to explain that an "All Way Stop" was carefully considered but that it "does not necessarily eliminate accidents at an intersection." It continued, "while an All Way Stop wold likely reduce the number of right angle type accidents, it is probable that the number of rear end type accidents would increase."

The DOT response concluded by stating that work would be done to remove brushes/trees at the intersection to improve sight distance. It also stated, "we have concluded that the installation of an All Way Stop control would not be in the public's best interest at this time."

"I was very frustrated actually," said Amanda Young of the response she got. "I was glad they responded but they said it was in the public's best interest not to put a 4-way stop there."

Three years later, watching two of her classmates die and three others be severely injured, Young is even more upset about the response she received.

"It's kind of ironic that our senior project I wrote that letter and the seniors I graduated with, two of them have died already," Young said. "It's very heartbreaking not only for me but for the whole community and the families"

A 1987 Letter to the DOT

Monroe County Legislature President Jeff Adair (R, Wheatland) drives through that intersection two or three times a week. He was also the former Wheatland Town Supervisor from 2001 to 2004.

"I make it out to be a very difficult, all-alert, you got to be very careful as you proceed through that intersection," Adair said.

Adair provided 13WHAM News with a letter to the DOT from the Wheatland Town Board dated June 1987. That letter states that between January 1984 and May 1987 there were 10 automobile accidents at that intersection; one was fatal, two involved injuries, seven involved property damage.

The "intersection has a site visibility problem which could be partially corrected by road construction" and the board requested that flashing caution signals be installed.

26 years later Jeff Adair looks at the letters from Amanda Young, the Town Board, and the DOT and states what many are thinking a day after this double-fatal crash.

"The leadership of that Town said we've got an issue out there," said Adair. "And then I see, we will remove the brush on the west side, I'm not really sure that's an appropriate response."

Adair said he now intends to work more aggressively with local and state leaders to address safety concerns surrounding that intersection.

New York State Assemblyman Bill Nojay (R, Pittsford) represents Wheatland and is also a member of the Assembly Transportation Committee. He tells 13WHAM News that he is going to begin gathering more information about the incidents at that intersection and once he does he will report back to the community on his findings and recommend changes if necessary.

As for Amanda Young? She decided to write another letter to the DOT, just hours after learning about the crash and the deaths of two of her classmates.

"I made sure I was clear this time what needed to be done,” Young said. “That is why I'm here (talking to 13WHAM) because I want this to be heard and I want something to be done about it because I don't want anyone else to die in Caledonia, or anywhere, but this intersection needs a 4-way stop immediately.”

In her letter July 16, 2013 letter to DOT Engineer David Goehring Young wrote: “I don’t know how many more people need to die at this intersection before the Department of Transportation thinks it is ‘in the public’s best interest’ to put an All Way Stop control here….you are not at fault for this accident or any other, however you do have the power to change the future outcomes of the lives that pass through Route 36 and North Road.”

New York State DOT Response

A spokeswoman for the DOT sent along this statement and information in response to media inquiries about that intersection:

We are still awaiting the result of the police investigation into the cause of this accident.

Safety is our number one priority. In 2010, the Department completed a study of this intersection and made a number of improvements, which included replacing and upgrading approach signs (stop ahead signs on North Rd and intersection warning signs on Route 36) to improve visibility, and significant tree trimming to improve sight distance. Those improvements were completed in November of 2011.

As part of the traffic review, we evaluated the accidents and found that during a 3-year period (2008 – 2010) prior to our study and improvements, there were 5 reported crashes involving eastbound and southbound vehicles, which was identified as a pattern. Since the improvements, no accidents in that pattern have occurred.

On behalf of everyone at DOT, we extend sympathy and sadness for all who are involved.

When asked again about the claim that no accidents were reported in that pattern since November 2011 the spokeswoman offered this clarification:

Yes, zero reported accidents since Nov. 2011 involved eastbound and southbound vehicles. There was one crash involving a deer and one involving a westbound/northbound vehicles.

Again, we extend sympathy and sadness to all involved in yesterday’s events.

Sean Carroll, 13WHAM News
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Wheatland fatal: Concerns over intersection date back to 1987

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