collision - Banks High School student's death raises concerns about Highway 47 crossing
by: Chase Allgood, A paramedic reacts to the wreckage of Kaylee Tawzer’s Toyota after it was hit by a fuel truck at the intersection of Highway 47 and Verboort Road on Friday afternoon.

A 16-year-old Banks High School student died early Saturday morning at a Portland-area hospital following a Friday afternoon collision north of Forest Grove.

Police say Kaylee Tawzer was attempting to cross Highway 47 around 3:30 p.m. when her car was hit by a farm fuel truck at the intersection of Verboort Road.

Tawzer was extricated from the car by local fire personnel and transported by LifeFlight to Legacy Emanuel Hospital, where she died early Saturday.

Tawzer's death shook the community of Banks and news of the crash rekindled a debate about an intersection that residents say is unsafe.

According to police reports, Tawzer was attempting to turn left from Verboort Road to go south on Highway 47 when she pulled in front of a northbound fuel truck driven by John Carlson, 60, of Gaston.

The fuel truck plowed into Tawzer's small Toyota Corolla sedan and left the vehicle crumpled into an assemblage of bent panels and broken glass.

Carlson reported no injuries, though he received medical care at the scene, and Oregon State Police said that no citations have been issued in connection with the wreck.

According to a pair of comments posted on the News-Times web site from a man who claimed to have been driving in front of Tawzer before the crash, the teen may have misjudged the speed of the oncoming truck.

'She was directly behind me at the stop sign on Highway 47 and my car went across Highway 47 as I saw the fuel truck approaching,' wrote the driver, who identified himself as Glenn. 'I knew I had enough time to get across but it was evident that no one else would have that much time.'

Efforts made by the News-Times to contact the poster for further comment were unsuccessful.

Shortly after news of the story broke on the paper's web site, an outpouring of sympathy, grief and confusion appeared in the reader comment section.

'I go to her school, and I'm sorry to say that she didn't make it. To make things worse, tonight was our first home football game. Our entire school is devastated,' wrote a poster who identified herself as Renee.

As some comments showed, the question of safety at the intersection of Highway 47 and Verboort Road (Verboort Road turns into Purdin Road after crossing Highway 47) is a contentious one.

Forest Grove Police Chief Glenn VanBlarcom drives the road often to visit his daughter and said that the speed of the cars passing through the area makes a crash inevitable.

'That's a high-speed intersection, so if you have traffic out there that's not paying attention, you're going to have a crash,' VanBlarcom told the News-Times.

'I had high hopes that they were going to put a traffic signal in there, but they didn't,' VanBlarcom said.

In 2005, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) embarked on a redesign of the intersection that widened Highway 47 to add turn lanes (for cars wanting to turn left and right from the highway) and expanded the approaches of both Purdin and Verboort roads.

John D. Smith, assistant project manager for ODOT, oversaw the construction project. He told the News-Times Tuesday that the goal of the improvements was to improve safety at the time, as traffic data showed most accidents at the intersection have involved turning situations.

'I know there were a lot of questions from residents about the flashing yellow beacon that was there and we didn't put that back up,' Smith said. 'Traffic studies show that it really doesn't make a difference.'

Smith said that putting a traffic signal at the intersection is problematic as well.

'Signaling the intersection was brought up by a lot of the local residents, but the problem is that signals can cause as many accidents as they save because all of a sudden you have to stop,' Smith said.

In 2002, Washington County recommended as part of its 2020 comprehensive traffic plan, that the intersection be improved by installing a traffic light or a roundabout (like the one at the intersection of Verboort and Martin roads) to handle the growth in traffic crossing the highway.

That plan, however, doesn't necessarily indicate any urgency, as some of the recommended improvements are a long ways from completion.

But Smith said that Washington County officials were concerned about the Verboort/Purdin crossing when they reviewed the 2005 work that ODOT contractors had done.

After that meeting, Smith said ODOT workers installed additional signage and rumble strips on both roads.

Accident reports from ODOT and Forest Grove Fire and Rescue show that Friday's crash was the first of 2007 and that crash data hasn't changed significantly since the road improvements were made two years ago.

But local residents don't think the intersection is safe enough.

'I drive this everyday and have seen multiple accidents,' Peter Cady wrote on the News-Times web site.

Cady lives in Forest Grove and commutes to Hillsboro daily through the intersection.

Cady didn't witness the crash, but said that the new turn lanes can create line-of-sight issues as well, and thought that might have played a role in the crash.

'She might have thought the truck was in the turn lane, because when you look at the right turn lanes heading east toward Verboort, it's hard to tell if vehicles are in the turn lane or the through lane.'

Cady said if a lighted intersection isn't possible, he'd like to see the speed lowered on Highway 47 through that intersection.

'If they reduced it to 45 that 10 mile-per-hour difference would make a big difference,' Cady said.

VanBlarcom said that the intersection will see even more use as subdivisions on the northwest end of Forest Grove fill in.

He hopes that ODOT takes another look at the intersection sooner rather than later.

'You don't have to be a traffic engineer to know that intersection is going to see a lot more traffic,' VanBlarcom said.

History of crashes

The intersection of Highway 47 and Verboort Road has been the site of 51 crashes since 1997. Data on crashes this year was unavailable from ODOT but Forest Grove Fire and Rescue data indicate that Friday's crash was the first of the year.

Year Crashes

2007 1

2006 3

2005* 5

2004 1

2003 2

2002 6

2001 7

2000 9

1999 5

1998 8

1997 4

*Intersection reconstructed

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