How many more must die?

Sonny Long

April 6, 2013 at 8:04 p.m.
Updated April 5, 2013 at 11:06 p.m.

Scraps of rusted metal, burned tires and shattered glass surround crosses at the site of the March 18 crash that killed  three people on state Highway 185.

Scraps of rusted metal, burned tires and shattered glass surround crosses at the site of the March 18 crash that killed three people on state Highway 185.

Wendy Marvin's life changed forever April 4, 2003.

Her husband, Steve Marvin, was on his way to work at what was then the BP Chemical plant on state Highway 185.

Rain was falling that day about 7 a.m. when Marvin's Jeep Cherokee hydroplaned about a mile from work and crashed head on into a Honda Accord, killing him and David Boehm, 57, of Victoria, the driver of the Accord.

The couple's daughter turned 16 the next day.

"My husband left behind three children who miss him very much and many friends and family members," said his widow.

"Our youngest was 9 when it happened, and it has been really rough on him growing up without a daddy. Steve's life was cut way too short. He was 40 years old and full of life.

"Something needs to be done with this road. I'm not sure what, but something needs to change," she said. "I hate to hear when wrecks occur because I know too very well exactly what the families that are left behind are feeling."

The latest fatality crash happened March 18, killing three people in one car and injuring two more in another vehicle.

In the 17 months since a fatal crash in October 2011, eight people have died along the 20-mile stretch of state Highway 185 between U.S. Highway 59 in Victoria and state Highway 35 in Calhoun County.

Including the two deaths April 4, 2003, 15 people have died on the roadway in 11 fatality wrecks since that day.

Another four have died on the Port O'Connor side of state Highway 35, including in and near the town.

In 2011 and 2012, according to data from the Texas Department of Transportation, the fatality crash rate on that stretch of state Highway 185 is about double the statewide rate on rural roads classified as state highways.

Already in 2013, five people have lost their lives on the highway.

'Don't blame plant workers'

While the factors for the number of fatal wrecks on the highway may be many - the 70-mph speed limit on a two-lane road, frequent fog, reckless and tired drivers, even wild animals crossing the road - workers at the chemical plants along the route between Victoria and Port O'Connor don't want to shoulder all the blame.

Greg Butler has logged time at more than one of the plants during his career and currently works at Seadrift Coke. He and his fellow workers often discuss the safety of the road.

"All of us plant workers have been saying that for years it needs to be a divided four-lane highway," Butler said after the latest crash that claimed three lives. "What is it going to take already? Families have lost loved ones, as I have lost a great friend."

His friend, Bobby Cantu, died in a crash in January.

"All we as plant workers want is to return home to our families safely. It's bad enough our jobs are some of the most dangerous in the construction business," Butler said.

Butler takes exception to some people pointing the finger at plant workers coming and going from work as the reason for so many wrecks.

"Most of these tragic accidents happened off plant worker travel time, and yet they still blame us," he said.

He admitted there are a few who drive "dumb," but the rest drive safely.

"I don't think it's fair to judge us all for a few people's stupidity when driving."

What can be done?

Making changes on the highway is possible, according to Texas Department of Transportation guidelines.

To change speed limits, a citizen would make a request to their transportation department district to study a roadway segment to see whether a speed limit change is warranted, said Mark Cross, transportation department spokesman.

Other safety changes to be considered would follow a similar process.

A citizen would approach the area transportation department district with their concerns, and the district would evaluate the location of the types of incremental changes that would be justified to correct the problem, Cross said.

There are a number of steps that a district might take, if justified, including widening the roadway and changes in signs.

These possible steps would be based on engineering judgment, Cross said.

Sign changes could include increasing the size of the existing standard signs, using additional signs or adding solid yellow or fluorescent yellow header panels, said Cross.

In addition, after a study by engineers, the transportation department could consider adding one or more red or orange flags to a regulatory warning sign, adding a warning beacon to a stop sign or speed limit sign, adding a light-emitting diode unit with the symbol or legend of a sign or adding a strip of reflective material to the sign support.

Safety is a top priority at the department of transportation, said Veronica Beyer, media relations director.

"TxDOT monitors and tracks all fatal and severe injury crashes that occur on our highways," she said.

"If we see a trend or a particular location stands out, we do further analysis to determine if there is an engineering improvement that could be made to address the issue.

"One crash or fatality is one too many," she said.



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