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Petitioner hopes ODOT sees the light

In wake of fatal crash, Sandy High School student circulates petition asking for controlled intersection at Shorty's Corner


by: SANDY POST PHOTO: KRISTOPHER ANDERSON - Cassy Zimmerman, a student at Sandy High School, started circulating a petition for a traffic light at the intersection of Firwood Road and Highway 26, where her close friend and classmate, Jordan Cox, was killed last month. POST PHOTO:  KRISTOPHER ANDERSON

On the evening of Friday, Sept. 21, 16-year-old Jordan Cox died when the pickup he was driving was struck by another truck as he entered the intersection of Highway 26 and Firwood Road east of Sandy.

Two days after the crash, Cassy Zimmerman, a long-time friend of the Sandy High School student, started a petition, asking that a three-way stoplight be installed at the intersection, which has a reputation among many in the community of being dangerous.

She circulated the petition through Sandy and into the mountain villages, collecting hundreds of signatures.

“I’ve been getting a huge response,” says Zimmerman, a 16-year-old who attends Sandy High School. “People want to make a change.”

Flashing yellow lights caution drivers to slow down at the intersection through which 24,500 cars drive daily. But many members of the community believe there should be more safety precautions. And nowhere has the response been bigger than at Shorty’s Corner, a convenience store and gas station located at the intersection.

Cindy Thompson, a cashier at the store who was working the evening Cox was killed, says 270 customers have signed Zimmerman’s petition since last Thursday.

“It’s a very dangerous corner,” she says. “Cars travel up and down (Highway 26) like it’s a freeway. Sometimes I think they’re going way too fast.

“I think people understand that this is a situation where they don’t want to see anybody else get hurt.”

Crash statistics

From 2006 to 2011, there have been nine crashes and 13 people injured within 50 feet of the intersection, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Five of those crashes occurred when the road was dry and five occurred at night.

Six crashes happened in the intersection while two occurred off the road.

The highest number of crashes in a single year was four in 2008, with none in 2010.

There have been three fatalities at that intersection, and the one last month was the first in 23 years, according to ODOT.

“We’ve certainly been hearing from the community,” says Don Hamilton, an ODOT public information officer. “ODOT works hard to make the roads as safe as possible, and we’re learning more about what happened and what steps can be taken.”

Hamilton added that ODOT is putting together a report that will examine the latest accident and discuss possible safety improvements.

Make matters worse?

As part of its report, ODOT will look at a similar intersection in Sandy, where statistics indicate the inherent dangers of installing traffic lights along high-speed roads.

A traffic light was placed at the Orient Road and Highway 26 intersection, west of Sandy, in 2006.

From 2000 to 2004 — before the traffic lights were installed — 12 crashes occurred there, with seven of those resulting in 12 injuries — one serious — and one fatality.

But from 2007 to 2011 —after the traffic signals were installed — there were 33 crashes and two fatalities. Twenty two of those crashes resulted in 37 injuries.

“There are a lot of consequences, especially for people who are used to a certain kind of pacing,” Hamilton says. “It takes some getting used to.”

There was a reduction in t-bone collisions at that intersection, but a rise in rear-endings. And crashes didn’t dissipate over time. In fact, one of the highest accident rates during that five-year span was in 2011.

“It tells us a lot about the dangers associated with a traffic light on a high-speed road,” Hamilton says, adding it would take at least a decade of studies to make statistically sound conclusions.

Other factors ODOT will consider include line of sight, population of the area and the minimum $500,000 cost to install a traffic light and warning signaling to slow down.

“We’re going to look at a lot of factors and want to make sure we hear from the community about their concerns,” he says.

Meanwhile, Zimmerman is still collecting signatures and says she’ll do so until she can’t get anymore. She says she’s been overwhelmed by the support, and hopes her efforts will prevent future injuries and deaths.

“I wanted to be the one to say it’s enough,” she says. “And I want people to help me out with it.”