GREENVILLE — More than 1,000 people have signed an online petition asking State Rep. Jim Buchy and other local leaders to use their influence to close cross traffic at an intersection where a 16-year-old Greenville, Ohio, teen died in an auto accident.
On August 2, Elias Burr was attempting to drive west across U.S. Route 127 on Kruckeberg Road when his vehicle was struck by a pickup truck driven by Samuel M. Wengerd, 28, of Geneva, Indiana, which was traveling northbound.
Both vehicles continued north traveling across the grass median and coming to rest on 127’s southbound lanes of travel. Burr succumbed to his injuries at the scene. Wengerd was treated and released at the scene. Four others — two passengers in Burr’s vehicle and two in Wengerd’s — were hospitalized with injuries.
The petition, posted at Change.org, states: “A median must be immediately placed to stop cross traffic at the intersection. Drivers are challenged with heavy traffic at high rates of speed 60 mph speed limit (which means drivers are going 65 mph plus) while traveling across 6 lanes of traffic activity. While the road is open for some distance, visibility is poor as the drivers are constantly changing lanes and it’s difficult to see which lanes they are traveling in.”
“We don’t need to lose more of our loved ones and children to this intersection for the convenience of people saving a minute or two to cross at this intersection,” the petition continues. “With the new school opening up, travel will only be increasing at this intersection.”
In addition to Rep. Buchy, the petition is addressed to State Sen. Keith Faber, Ohio District Safety Coordinator Mary Hoy, and Darke County Engineer Jim Surber.
The petition was started by Stacy Peters of Greenville. Though she and her husband, Jesse Peters, were not related to Burr, he worked for the family as a horsemanship apprentice.
“He was very close to us,” said Jesse. “Not only as an apprentice, but he was learning about life through horsemanship. He was a dear friend of the family — one of the most kindest, gentlest, hardworking kids. He was very mature for his age.”
Stacy told The Daily Advocate she and her husband wish they had addressed the issue before Burr’s death.
“Our one regret is that we did not take action sooner as citizens living close to this intersection and hearing accident after accident there,” she said. “We may have saved Elias’ life. Not to mention the life of the man who hit him, as his life is forever changed. We met him the day of the funeral and he is truly broken.”
Stacy said in addition to more than 1,000 signatures and 500 comments on the petition, they have also circulated a physical petition in the community.
“I believe we’ll hit 1,300 signatures,” she said.
Many responses to the petition are personal in nature, relating to the loss of loved ones at the intersection.
Dan North of Oldenburg, Indiana, wrote, “My wife died at this intersection. Every time this happens, family and friends go through a awful time. It is always with you and changes a families life forever.”
“It saddens me that there are people in positions that can take care of these type of issues, but choose to pick dollars over lives. If it were their family, they would think differently. I don’t know how they sleep at night knowing that this continues and nothing is being done,. I miss my wife every day. So do my daughters and grand kids. Will someone in the right position get this taken care of before more lives are lost,” he added.
Middletown, Ohio, resident Susan Spille wrote, “I lived in Greenville for 29 years until January 2015. My best friend was killed at this intersection, Susan North. It is UNACCEPTABLE that nothing has been done at this site of numerous accidents and fatalities!!”
“I work at a funeral home in Greenville, Ohio, and we do see too many deaths from this intersection,” wrote Renee Atkinson of Greenville. “Poor Elias was just the most recent and he paid dearly for what is mostly a malfunction junction so to speak. Please help us to put the necessary structures in place to help prevent future tragedies.”
Mandi Dillon, Public Information Officer for Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) District 7, told The Daily Advocate, “We are aware of the petition and our safety review team is currently looking at that intersection. They have plans to meet with the county engineer in September to discuss the intersection and potential safety improvements. We have looked at this intersection previously and upgraded the area with a continuous right turn lane for the east to south movement on the west approach.”
The continuous right turn lane was completed in fall 2015.
Rep. Buchy (R-Greenville) said he is also aware of the petition and has already spoken with ODOT officials regarding ways to make the intersection safer.
“I’m in communication with my constituents about the intersection,” he said. “I expect some decisions will be made in the near future. There are many professionals and engineers looking at it. Everybody is looking at it to see if something can be done.”
A graphic released by the Ohio State Highway Patrol shows that from 2011 to 2016, there were three fatalities and 11 injuries at or near the intersection in question.
Darke County Engineer Jim Surber says that while the intersection should be approached with caution, closing it entirely would not be the best solution in his estimation.
“While everyone would like to prevent tragic accidents such as this, it must be recognized that the most recent fatalities were the result of driver error and/or distraction,” he said.
“Each day, about 8,700 vehicles pass through this intersection and one fourth are northbound left turns onto Kruckeberg. Vehicles turning right from Kruckeberg onto U.S. 127 make up another one fourth of total traffic, and for the past year have been able to more safely make this movement thanks to the added merge lane,” he added.
Further, Surber contends closing the intersection could create additional traffic volume, and potentially more accidents, on nearby Ohio Route 121 unless improvements are also made there.
“Building a median through the intersection to prevent cross-traffic and left turns from and to Kruckeberg Road would require about 3,500 vehicles per day [to] find another route. This would most likely be the intersection of U.S. 127 and State Route 121,” Surber said. “Without major improvements at this location, a transfer of this traffic volume would likely result in many more accidents at a nearby location.”
To view the petition, go online to https://www.change.org/p/jim-buchy-close-the-median-at-hwy-127-and-kruckeberg-rd-in-greenville-oh-before-more-people-die