Wrong-way crash that killed Kettering woman raises safety questions

A wrong-way crash at Sinclair Community College that killed an 87-year-old woman has sparked a conversation about how to improve the safety of downtown Dayton’s one-way streets.

Opal Clouse, a Kettering resident, died after her silver Honda was hit at South Perry and West Fifth streets about 9 a.m. Tuesday, according to a police report.

Clouse was heading south on Perry Street when a sport utility vehicle traveling west in the wrong direction on Fifth Street collided with her vehicle, authorities said. The wrong-way driver, 67-year-old Englewood resident Adrian Traylor, did not sustain serious injuries.

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The one-way streets in downtown can be confusing and can lead to motorist mistakes, said Brandon Elyea, 30, Clouse’s grandson.

“It’s kind of confusing down there at Ludlow and Perry, where Fifth Street turns into a one way,” Elyea said. “I don’t hold any animosity toward the driver.”

Elyea said he’s almost driven the wrong way down that exact stretch of road before.

Kennyatta Mays, who works downtown, witnessed the crash and says it could have just as easily been her vehicle that was hit, if it happened moments later.

Mays said she drives that route daily, and traffic flows generally are pretty good.

But, she said, downtown’s one-way roads could be safer if there were more posted signs and painted warnings on the street telling motorists they are going the wrong way.

Once a motorist makes a mistake and starts driving the wrong way, often they do not realize their error until they see other cars coming towards them, she said.

It would be helpful if there were more notices and warnings beyond the initial point where a street becomes one way, she said.

“I think we can do a better job of that,” said Mays, who has seen other vehicles drive the wrong way downtown.

Elyea, the grandson, said the one-way streets in downtown can be confusing to navigate, and said the city could put up more signs to alert drivers.

He said he doesn’t understand why Fifth Street suddenly switches to one direction from two at South Wilkinson Street.

“It makes no sense to me,” he said.

Elyea and his aunt lived with Clouse in a home in Kettering, near the southern end of the city of Dayton golf course.

Clouse, who was retired from General Motors, was downtown to pay taxes, Elyea said.

“She was a wonderful person who just wanted to help people,” her grandson said. “She’d do anything for anybody.”

Clouse’s Honda was struck as she was entering the intersection of South Perry and West Fifth streets by a Toyota RAV4 being driven by Traylor, a crash report states. Her car was sent barrelling into a utility pole at the southwestern corner of the intersection.

Clouse was taken to Miami Valley Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Clouse is survived by her three daughters. Her husband died years ago.

Downtown’s one-way street system has been a topic of debate for years.

Steve Seboldt, a downtown resident since 2001, said the streets used to be consistently one-way, but the city made changes that have improved some traffic issues but also caused some confusion among motorists.

Vehicles from time to time can be seen driving the wrong way on both North Patterson Boulevard and St. Clair Streets, near the downtown Dayton Metro Library.

“I am OK with the one-way concept, but with the volume of traffic we have now, I am not comfortable with the short patches of two-way traffic” on some roads, Seboldt said.

Dayton’s one-way system was put in place sometime in the 1950s or 1960s in the hopes of improving traffic flows.

In 2006, a Columbus consultant working for the city of Dayton floated the idea of eliminating one-way downtown streets and making them two-way again.

At the time, Dayton’s then-assistant director of public works Steve Finke told this newspaper that traffic volumes had decreased and one-way streets were no longer as helpful.

After some citizens complained, the proposal was scaled back to convert about 16 blocks from one-way to two-way streets.

Supporters of two-way streets have said that motorists unfamiliar with downtown will feel less intimated and more comfortable driving around if one-way roads are converted.

In 2009, the city worked on some street conversions that targeted East Monument Avenue, North Patterson Boulevard and First, Second and Fourth streets.

In 2013, a consultant for Sinclair Community College unveiled a long-term campus master plan that proposes closing a section of Fourth Street because Perry and Fifth Streets could be made two way.

Destinie Warren, 35, a third-year Sinclair College student, said she’s witnessed a vehicle drive the wrong way north on Perry Street, after pulling out of a parking lot.

Warren, who lives in Piqua, said she’s comfortable with the one-way streets now but admits it was confusing at first.

Still, she said, motorists who pay attention can safely maneuver through the area by being careful and obeying the traffic signs.

“They have signs posted throughout saying, ‘One way,’ and I think it’s really about becoming familiar with the town, because Dayton notoriously has one-way streets all over the place,” she said.

Signage is posted quite clearly on West Fifth Street where it becomes one way, and the roads are perfectly safe if motorists take their time to read the signs, said Christine Kemper, who works at Economy Linen, which is a short walk from the crash scene.

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