CHARLES TOWN – After a second fatal accident at the intersection of U.S. 340 and Augustine Avenue, Charles Town officials were left wondering Monday what more can be done to make the intersection safer.
“Any loss of life period is tragic. This is just so sad. It doesn’t need to happen,” Mayor Bob Trainor said of the accident there last week that took the life of a 64-year-old Harpers Ferry woman.
Council members Heather Sprenger and Kevin Tester, who represent the city’s Ward 2 political district where the intersection is located close to the entrance of Washington High School, said nearby residents are once again frustrated and worried about the safety of the intersection.
Cars, trucks and many school buses pass through or make turns at the stoplight-controlled intersection where the speed limit drops from 60 mph to 50 mph.
Tester said most nearby area residents try to be especially wary and alert before passing through the intersection.
“Ninety percent of the time I have to sit there three or four seconds before I move because inevitably somebody’s coming through that [red] light,” he said. “It’s that bad.”
On Sept. 14, Linda Monroe died after her sport utility vehicle was struck by a cargo truck traveling southbound on U.S. 340. Monroe was turning onto U.S. 340 from Augustine Avenue when the collision occurred about 4 p.m.
The truck driver was Neftali Vigil Gonzales, 49, of Lorton, Virginia.
“It’s one of the things that you think about and wonder how can you keep this from happening,” Sprenger said of the intersection.
Although her greatest pleasure was spending time with her grandson Joey, Monroe, according to an obituary notice her family published, was an avid patio gardener who enjoyed visiting farmers and flea markets and morning walks on the area’s trails and along ocean beaches.
Charles Town police are still investigating the accident and not ready to release more information, police Chief Chris Kutcher said.
On May 11, 2019, a fatal accident at the intersection took the life of a new father, a 32-year-old Reston, Virginia, man, John Everett King III. That accident occurred on a sunlit Saturday when a tractor-trailer traveling eastbound on U.S. 340 struck a car from behind, setting off a chain-reaction of crashes involving four other vehicles.
The cars caught in the collision were just beginning to accelerate eastbound through the intersection after the traffic light there had turned green for them, police reported.
Trainor said state highway officials plan to review whether the traffic lights remain synchronized as highway engineers intend. The timing of the lights were adjusted after the fatal accident there in May.
Prompted by city officials and Sheriff Pete Dougherty, state highway officials last year reviewed the safety of the intersection and the section of highway along U.S. 340 east and west of the high-traffic spot. Highway engineers adjusted the timing of the lights slightly, but they also concluded that the intersection and the surrounding portion of the highway posed no unusually dangerous features that needed to be corrected.
In a Feb. 11, 2019, letter to Trainor, West Virginia Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Jimmy Wriston reported that 22 traffic accidents had occurred at the intersection occurred over five “recent” years that caused 14 injuries and one death. That accident data generates a “crash rate” of 0.75 crashes occurring on average every time a million vehicles pass through the multilane intersection, Wriston wrote.
“The crash rate is lower than the statewide average for this type of intersection,” he explained.
Traffic engineers compared the U.S. 340 intersection’s accident rate with those of similar multilane intersections controlled by traffic signals on a high-speed roadway.
City officials reported last year that 36 accidents occurred at the Augustine Avenue intersection since 2014. Nearly 18,000 daily vehicle trips were recorded along that nearby section of U.S. 340 in 2017, the latest traffic volume data from the state highway agency.
On Monday, Trainor said he would touch base with highway officials again about the safety of the intersection and the highway leading up to the intersection.
“We’ve got to look to try somehow how to make that safer,” the mayor said. “Basically, it’s when you combine a limited highway access to intersections, it’s always problematic.”