State Highway 185 section claims 11 people in 4 years (video)

Sonny Long

March 19, 2013 at 11:03 p.m.
Updated March 19, 2013 at 10:20 p.m.

Eleven people have died during the past four years in the 52-mile stretch of state Highway 185 between Victoria and Port O'Connor.

The latest victims died Monday in a head-on collision that killed three people in a car.

"It's nerve-racking," said Jana Keeling Mitchell, who makes the drive on the highway from Seadrift to Victoria for work every day. "Not only do I have to worry about the pigs and deer, but the people going to and from the plants.

"More than once, I've had to swerve to keep from someone hitting me.

"Those workers put in 12 hours, get a few hours sleep and are back at work for 12 more hours," she said. "They are sleepy."

Shawn Kmiec, who drives the road regularly, also puts part of the blame for the danger on plant workers.

"They drive like idiots," he said. "My main issue with the road is the high speed limit. Seventy is too fast."

For Kathryn Chacon, it's her dad she worries about. Lupe Chacon has worked at the chemical plants, currently at Ineos, for more than 20 years.

"It's terrifying," Chacon said. "I've heard about wrecks out there since I was a child. Thankfully, none of my family or friends have been in them."

Chacon would like to see increased law enforcement on the highway.

"When I read about the wreck on the Internet, I called my dad to make sure he was OK," said Chacon, a student at Auburn University in Alabama. "DPS needs to monitor it more."

Krista Lellenquin agrees.

"I've never seen it patrolled at all," said Lellenquin, who used to drive her husband to work at Ineos but now refuses. "I stress out too much. It's scary.

"People haul butt on that road. A few tickets may slow them down some," she said.

Calhoun County Sheriff George Aleman said his office has recently increased patrols, especially at peak traffic times.

"After the fatality in January, we were contacted by one of the plant managers and asked if we could patrol that area more," said the sheriff. "We started that day."

Aleman said the plants, too, have been conducting safety meetings with traffic safety high on the agenda.

Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor said manpower is always an issue for his department.

"We always have units in the zone around Bloomington," he said. "But with an increase in traffic and no increase in manpower, it's a big concern."

O'Connor said he has been able to augment patrols some with federal grant money but fears that will soon be drying up, too.

Trooper Gerald Bryant with the Texas Department of Public Safety said troopers assigned to both Victoria and Calhoun counties patrol state Highway 185, but personnel issues also limit the DPS' ability to be everywhere at once.

Mitchell, Kmiec and Chacon all think widening the road to four lanes would help.

The Texas Department of Transportation has no plans to make any changes on the highway, said Mark Cross, TxDOT spokesman.

"This stretch of road carries a lot of plant and factory traffic. It is fairly straight, with two lanes and full shoulders," Cross said.

In at least two of the fatal crashes, dating to April 2009, fog may have been a factor.

"The foggy days are the worst," said Mitchell. "It's just awful."



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