State transportation officials said a study already was underway on potential safety improvements on a busy stretch of U.S. 42 north of Lebanon where an 18-year-old died last week in a head-on crash.
The fatality sparked additional analysis, said Brian Cunningham, spokesman for the local Ohio Department of Transportation office, but there are no new plans yet for the 6-mile stretch between Lebanon and Waynesville, just north of the intersection with Old Ohio 122.
“We have roads throughout the state like this. This road is not unique,” Cunningham said.
Makenna Blanding, 18, of Wayne Twp., was killed and Daniel Harvey, 42, of Xenia, suffered life-threatening injuries Aug. 28 in the two-vehicle crash near Township Line Road in Wayne Twp., officials from the Ohio State Highway Patrol said.
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Blanding was driving with her sister, Kylee Blanding, 25, north on U.S. 42 in an Oldsmobile Alero when it slid off the road, over-corrected and traveled left of center into the path of a Chevrolet Trailblazer just before noon, according to an OSP highway patrol investigation report.
In its wake, neighbors called for action and pointed to the narrow berm on which drivers are hard-pressed to regain control if they go over it.
Berm widths vary, but two feet is standard, Cunningham said.
“There is absolutely no berm,” said Herschel Robbins, the first person on the scene of Tuesday’s fatal crash, the 13th of the year in Warren County. “If you drop a wheel off, it’s impossible to get back on.”
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Blanding was pronounced dead at the scene. Her sister was treated for non life-threatening injuries and released from Atrium Medical Center in Middletown.
Harvey was taken to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton and was in critical condition, said Lt. Chuck O’Bryon, commander of the Lebanon patrol post.
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O’Bryon was unsure what led to the crash. He said Blanding’s sister said she was not using her cellphone, but urged drivers to avoid this or other actions that could result in distracted driving.
O’Bryon confirmed neighbor accounts of numerous crashes that have occurred on this stretch of road.
However, he was unsure why the area was crash prone and noted thousands of drivers pass safely through on a typical day.
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State data shows there have been more than 125 crashes on the stretch of U.S. 42 between the northern limits of Lebanon and the southern limits of Waynesville since the beginning of 2015.
“I travel this road as well as Utica Road (nearby) daily. The straighter the road, the less people pay attention to their driving,” Tricia Smith Cooper said in a comment on the Warren County News Facebook page. “I cannot tell you how many times a day I’m almost run off the road because of drivers talking on phones/texting on these two roads. Also, there are little to no berms … once your wheel runs off the road, inexperienced drivers over-correct or wind up in the ditch.”
The road, once a key part of the state’s system, widens to a four-lane divided highway near Waynesville and heads north into Greene County and then up to Cleveland.
But the two-lane section neighbors claim is too hazardous is a classified by transportation officials as a minor arterial built to federal standards. About 8,000 vehicles travel the stretch on an average day.
Safety studies put crash rates on this stretch no higher than 90th (where people turning into the Red Stewart Airfield are involved in crashes) on a statewide list, Cunningham said.
Farther down the list are two locations in the vicinity of the fatal crash’s location ranked 124th and 343rd, based on crash data. Cunningham said a review of safety measures along this stretch was renewed earlier this year after another crash.
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“We are looking at options, but we haven’t determined any solutions yet,” he said, adding Blanding’s death would prompt another look.
The culvert near the crash location is scheduled for a repair in 2020.
In addition to crash data, the local ODOT office has been spurred by Robbins and his neighbor, Mary Allen, whose farm fronts on east side of the crash-prone section.
Last week, Allen pointed to debris from past crashes, including telephone pole pieces, and recalled the 17,000 pounds of frozen chicken littering her property after a refrigerated tractor-trailer went off the road there.
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“I have called over this,” Allen said. “The state has been looking at it. They just haven’t done anything.”
Robbins recalled another death resulting from last week’s fatal, one of the girls’ dogs. The other was taken from the scene by a veterinarian, he said. He also said his sister-in-law began first aid before the township fire chief arrived.
Harvey, the other driver, wound up pinned in his vehicle in the ditch. The Blanding car came to rest pointed southbound in the northbound lane, three of four wheels knocked off, Robbins recalled.
“It was a terrible wreck,” Robbins said. “It’s a shame that somebody has to get killed and nothing get done.”