CHARLES TOWN – A fatal daylight crash on U.S. 340 at Augustine Avenue in May has prompted Charles Town officials, working with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, to ask state highway administrators to evaluate additional safety measures for the heavily traveled crossroad.
Mayor Bob Trainor sent a letter Sept. 3 to West Virginia Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Jimmy Wriston asking that more signs, roadway markings or warning devices be considered to alert motorists approaching the intersection on U.S. 340.
Adding flashing strobes or rumble strips to the four-lane highway are options Trainor suggested after discussions among city officials, state highway engineers, and city and county police.
Trainor also asked that the timing of traffic signals at the intersection be reviewed. City officials want to ensure that yellow and green lights are long enough to allow cars, trucks and buses to safely clear the intersection while avoiding traffic backups.
City Manager Daryl Hennessy said a formal traffic study of the intersection will be conducted if a proposal to build an apartment complex at Augustine Avenue moves forward.
City officials report that police have responded to 36 accidents at the intersection since 2014. Numerous school buses use the intersection to transport students to and from nearby Washington High School and Page-Jackson Elementary School.
On May 11, a tractor-trailer truck traveling northbound on U.S. 340 struck a car from behind preparing to pass through the intersection just after a traffic light there had turned green, police reported.
The collision set off a chain-reaction accident involving the tractor-trailer and four other vehicles, including a car driven by 32-year-old John Everett King III of Reston, Va.
King, a father to a son who was 2 months old at the time, died in the crash. His son Benny and partner Elisabeth Mitter, who were also in the car, survived.
Sgt. Robert Sell, who is investigating the May 11 crash, pointed out that warning signs in the northbound lane of U.S. 340 already alert motorists approaching the intersection. Sell said a curve and uphill slope on the highway obscure the traffic light at Augustine Avenue until about a 1/10 of a mile. The speed limit there drops from 60 mph to 50/45 mph.
Motorists driving on northbound U.S. 340 can see a traffic light for a left turn lane onto Augustine Avenue toward Washington High School much sooner than they can see the traffic light for vehicles continuing straight through the intersection toward Charles Town, Sell said.
An investigation into the accident is considering whether the truck driver involved in the fatal accident might have become confused that the left turn lane was the primary traffic light, he said.
“There had to be some sort of distraction for him not to be able to do anything until almost hitting those cars,” Sell said.
No charges have been filed against the truck’s driver, Christopher Glover of Somerset, Pa. Sell is seeking Glover’s blood test results before concluding his investigation. The Sheriff’s Office is still waiting for lab results to determine whether alcohol, drugs or other medical factors may have contributed to the accident — which occurred on a clear afternoon on a dry roadway.
Sell said extending the time for a yellow light signal may not always make an intersection safer. Sometimes a longer yellow light can give motorists who frequently drive through the intersection a false sense of security to pass through a yellow light dangerously late before it turns red.
Calls to West Virginia Transportation Department spokesman Brent Walker to determine whether state officials will conduct the safety review were not immediately returned.