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Grieving woman asks VDOT for stoplight

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Sherry Lee was warned about the intersection of Tetotum and Ridge roads when she moved to Colonial Beach seven years ago.

“I wish I’d paid more attention,” she said of the intersection, which is just across the Westmoreland County line in King George.

These days, the junction of State Routes 218 and 205 consumes her thoughts.

That’s because less than a month ago her father and brother’s fiancée were killed in a crash there.

Lee believes the crash never should have happened and she’s determined to keep other deadly crashes from happening at the intersection.

The Colonial Beach woman has pushed Virginia Department of Transportation officials to erect a stoplight at the intersection.

She also reached out to Gov. Bob McDonnell.

She has protested at the intersection and, through some family contacts, enlisted the help of former NFL player Chris Warren, who recently visited Lee to show his support.

“I don’t want any more people to die there,” she said last Friday while standing in the parking lot of Gitie’s, a knickknack store at the intersection.

The fatal crash happened at 3 p.m. on May 6 when Jodi Graham pulled the Chevrolet out from Route 218 into the path of a westbound International box truck on Route 205.

The 19-year-old Graham and her passenger, Paul Lee, a 76-year-old retired detective and onetime movie stuntman, had picked up an auto part and were headed back to his home about six miles away when the crash happened.

Sherry Lee said her father moved to Colonial Beach from Louisiana in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the home where he lived with his wife and daughter. His wife suffered a stroke and died. Sherry Lee now cares for her father’s 15-year-old daughter.

The Virginia State Police investigation of the deadly crash continues, but they reported that Graham failed to yield the right of way.

Sherry Lee said it was raining that day, which made it more difficult for Graham to see oncoming traffic.

But Lee contends that the intersection itself is to blame for the crash.

Both of the roads are two-lane highways with double-yellow dividing lines. Both have 55 mph speed limits, but there are 45 mph advisory speed limit warning signs on Route 205 each way prior to the intersection with 218.

There is a long bend on Route 205 at the intersection. The line of sight for left-turning traffic from Route 218 is cut short by the curve and trees.

On Friday, cars pulling from Route 218 often edged out slowly before making the left turn onto Route 205 toward Colonial Beach.

Graham was attempting to turn left onto Route 205 when the crash happened.

“I think it’s very unsafe,” Amanda McDaniel said of the intersection. “It’s so hard for [people] to see.”

The Georgia native, who moved to Colonial Beach a year ago, is a first responder and nurse trained to handle trauma. Though she is not affiliated with any local emergency departments, when she arrived at the scene of the May 6 crash, McDaniel treated Graham and Paul Lee.

She said both suffered “horrific injuries.” State police reported that Paul Lee died at the scene while Graham died at Mary Washington Hospital.

McDaniel criticized the emergency response, which she said took more than a half-hour to arrive, as well as the intersection.

She thinks a stoplight should be installed there.

“Nobody else should have to die,” she said.

Gitie Maliks–Renn has operated the store at the intersection since 1999. She’s seen plenty of crashes there and has been subpoenaed to testify in court many times. She sees a near miss “every other day.”

“A lot of screeching of tires,” Maliks–Renn added. “I don’t know why they haven’t put a light there.”

Figures from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles show that there have been 13 crashes at the intersection since 2008.

While Sherry Lee said others have been killed in crashes at the intersection, the accident involving Graham and Paul Lee is the only reported fatal crash since 2008. No other deadly crashes at the intersection could be confirmed by The Free Lance–Star.

VDOT began a study of the intersection following the deadly crash. That is standard following any incident in which people die, said spokeswoman Kelly Hannon.

VDOT has already taken some action, including lowering the speed limit and adding warning signs and markers.

The highway department’s study includes a traffic count. “We know this is a concern and we’re going to complete it as fast as we can,” Hannon said.

VDOT Commissioner Gregory Whirley and Fredericksburg District Administrator Quintin D. Elliott have spoken with Sherry Lee.

She said Whirley told her the highway department plans to cut back the trees and brush at the intersection.

She said she wants a traffic signal, but he wouldn’t commit to that. Instead, he asked her to let them conduct the study, which is expected to be completed by the end of the month.

In the meantime, Sherry Lee continues her push.

She has stood at the intersection with a sign several times since the crash to gather signatures supporting the stoplight.

So far, she said, more than 500 have signed the petition and donated about $300.

“I believe if a traffic light was there I’d still be talking to my dad,” she said. “How many more people have to die there? It’s terrible.”

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

sshenk@freelancestar.com

 

ROUTES 218 AND 205

Reported crashes at the King George County intersection:

Year     Crashes

2013       2

2012       2

2011       1

2010       2

2009       2

2008       4

Total      13

Source: Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles

 

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