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Spotsy road has accident history

Orange Plank Road is like many of the Fredericksburg region’s country roads—winding, narrow and scenic in stretches.

But Orange Plank Road, which runs from State Route 3 in Spotsylvania County, passing through the Wilderness Civil War battlefield to State Route 20 in Orange County, can also be treacherous.

Trees line much of the two-lane road. Many stand within a few feet of the pavement, and the more than 7,000 cars that travel on Orange Plank each day.

The shoulders are narrow to nonexistent. Beyond the Fawn Lake development, there are no white lines marking the shoulder.

In many spots, the pavement drops off to dirt and gravel, enough to make a driver worry what would happen if the passenger-side tire slipped over the edge, especially at 45 to 55 mph, which are the speed limits on Orange Plank Road.

That’s what happened at about 2:30 a.m. on April 9 to 26-year-old Samantha Kemmerer.

The mother of two young boys was heading home after having worked a late-night shift as a bartender at the Texas Roadhouse restaurant in Spotsylvania.

Her car ran off the right side of the road, along a stretch without the white shoulder lines. Police said she apparently overcorrected, flipped her car and smashed into a tree on the left side of Orange Plank Road.

She died at the scene.

Neither speed nor alcohol appeared to play a role in the crash, and she wore a seat belt, according to the Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office.

It’s not really clear what caused Kemmerer’s car to run off the road, and that may never be known.

But her crash was like most others on Orange Plank—severe.

“When they have one on it, it’s usually a bad one,” Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Pearce said of crashes on Orange Plank Road.

Kemmerer’s crash was similar in another way to other accidents on the road: It involved a car running off the road and hitting a “fixed object,” most often a tree.

Between 2010 and 2012—the most recent Virginia Department of Transportation data—there were 53 crashes, with 23 involving cars running off the road and hitting an object.

Kemmerer’s accident was the first deadly crash on Orange Plank since 2009.

But she is at least the eighth person to die in a crash on that road since 2000, according to VDOT statistics and The Free Lance–Star’s archives.

After Kemmerer’s crash, Spotsylvania residents who live along Orange Plank or drive it regularly called it a dangerous road.

“My husband totaled his car on this road by over correcting when his tire slipped off in the same exact way,” Ashley Raposo posted on The Free Lance–Star’s Facebook page. “He was lucky to have been in a spot with less trees. The police officer [who investigated that crash] said it’s the Number One reason they see accidents on [State Route] 621 besides deer. Something needs to be done to improve safety here!”

But is Orange Plank dangerous?

Neither transportation officials nor emergency responders described Orange Plank as a dangerous road.

According to the crash statistics between 2010 and 2012, the road falls below the average of state secondary roads for crashes involving injuries, deaths or property damage above $1,500.

Yet the 23 cars that ran off Orange Plank and crashed concerns VDOT officials, because that is 40 percent higher than the state average for secondary roads.

That’s one thing VDOT engineers will be looking at in an analysis of Orange Plank Road.

The highway department studies roads anytime someone dies in a crash, said VDOT spokeswoman Kelly Hannon.

She emphasized that statistics aren’t the only thing VDOT considers when studying roadway safety.

Every road is unique, she said, and there can be issues that statistics don’t reveal.

“We want to make sure we understand the current conditions” on Orange Plank Road, she said.

The department will “look at all the possible options” for the road, including adding white shoulder lines, Hannon explained.

There are regulations on those white edge lines, though. If a road is too narrow, the lines could push drivers toward the middle of the road, increasing the risk of collisions between cars headed in opposite directions.

The analysis of Orange Plank Road is expected to be completed by the end of May, Hannon said.

In the meantime, she said VDOT wants to hear from drivers, too. And not just about Orange Plank Road.

The highway department relies on drivers to help them find issues on roads, Hannon said.

“We’re always open to hearing from drivers.”

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436