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Buckhannon Police Chief Matt Gregory speaking at a 2019 Buckhannon City Council meeting. / File photo

City to request study of Route 33, its intersections following fatal Childers Run accident

BUCKHANNON – At Buckhannon City Council’s April 4 meeting, Buckhannon fire chief J.B. Kimble had, per usual, been slated to deliver his monthly report.

But instead, he had to dash out the door to respond to what public works director Jerry Arnold characterized as a bad motor vehicle accident.

Arnold filled in for Kimble, delivering the fire chief’s report on his behalf.

As Buckhannon mayor David McCauley said at Thursday night’s council meeting, that night, city officials knew the accident was serious and possibly involved fatalities.

However, they wouldn’t find out until the next morning that assistant city attorney Matthew Hymes and his fellow Lions Club member, Sarah Downes, had passed away in the tragic accident, which happened shortly after 7 p.m. as Hymes was attempting to cross Route 33 from the Childers Run intersection.

As McCauley explained Thursday, following the sudden and tragic deaths of Hymes and Downes, there was an outpouring on social media and via other mediums from residents asking the City of Buckhannon to reach out to the West Virginia Department of Highways with a request to make the stretch of road that intersects with Childers Run and Kesling Mill roads safer.

One such suggestion was to request the DOH lower the speed limit.

That’s exactly what council ultimately voted to do: Write a letter to the DOH requesting that a traffic study of Route 33, including the Childers Run and Kesling Mill intersections be completed.

McCauley said the span of highway is only destined to become more dangerous.

“I would tell you – and those of you who are familiar with the decades of Corridor H development know – when Corridor H is complete, traffic will increase by 330 percent,” the mayor said. “It’s going to be an exponential increase. It’s going to get worse, and we could keep turning deaf ear and a blind eye or we could become more assertive and vigilant [with the DOH] to honor [Hymes and Downes] and the people who have been injured or lost their lives at those intersections.”

“What’s the will of the council?” McCauley asked.

Councilman David Thomas said he wasn’t sure if simply lowering the speed limit would be sufficient to stave off future accidents.

“I think that a lot of ppl don’t obey speed limits,” Thomas said. “It may be advantageous to put a light at Childers Run or Kesling Mill. Then, people are not going to take off like mad if they’re having to come to a stop.”

Police chief Matt Gregory said he’d support the addition of some kind of traffic control mechanism in the area.

“In my experience, there’s been a number of fatalities there and accidents, and a number of very bad accidents that could have otherwise been fatalities,” Gregory said. “Some of the worst ones are actually at Brushy Fork Road (intersection). A lot of it is because people are going so fast. Large trucks can’t get stopped for the stoplight, and that’s when T-bone type collisions occur, and that can set off a chain reaction with a number of cars being hit.”

“I’ve long been of the opinion that as development continues along corridor H … that it needs to constantly be reassessed,” Gregory said of the Childers Run and Kesling Mill intersections. “Speed has been the issue.”

Councilman CJ Rylands asks why the state DOH has been reluctant to implement traffic control devices along Route 33 intersections in the past. Also pictured is councilwoman Pamela Bucklew.

Councilman CJ Rylands asked why the DOH had been reluctant to install additional traffic control mechanisms, and Gregory replied that often, the volume of traffic serves as the basis for such judgments.

Councilman Robbie Skinner suggested council request the DOH perform a study of the stretch of Route 33 from Red Rock Road to Kesling Mill.

“There are eight non-exits that are exits in Buckhannon,” he said. “From Red Rock Road to Kesling Mill, there are eight places where you can cross the highway to enter Buckhannon. We are situated very close to this highway.”

Skinner said that positioning was dissimilar to other large cities in close proximity to Buckhannon, which are at least 2 miles away from interstate junctions.

“This road basically goes right through Buckhannon,” he said, “and there’s certain elements of every exit that aren’t quite right.”

Skinner pointed to blind spots at the Kesling Mill, Lower Childers Run and Upper Childers Run intersections.

“I think asking for a study that would analyze that stretch of road from mile marker 9 to mile marker 15 … would be advantageous,” he said.

Gregory said he agreed with Skinner.

“I think at least a study needs done at this point,” the police chief said. “I don’t know that stoplights are the answer.”

Skinner and Gregory said they thought the city would fare best with the DOH if, instead of asking for a specific traffic control mechanism, such as a stoplight, officials instead left the answer to the problem open-ended.

“If we’re more specific, we’re going to close doors,” Skinner said.

McCauley asked if council would approve a motion directing he and Gregory to write a letter to the commissioner of the Division of Highways asking that a traffic study be completed.

Skinner made a motion to approve the action, which was seconded by Thomas prior to passing unanimously.

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