LEWISVILLE — A month has passed but Tina Boyer is still shaken.
A young man who’d only just started out in life died in her front yard, the result of a car crash that she believes could have been prevented—or, at the very least, been survivable.
Wrecks are common at the edge of her property, which fronts Conrad Road at its intersection with Old U.S. 421 in Lewisville.
It’s wooded and has a steep embankment with a fish pond at the bottom. The roadway, with gentle curves and lined with large, old-growth trees, invites speed. The T intersection is guarded only by a stop sign that can be difficult to see, particularly after dark.
By Boyer’s count, at least 15 vehicles have crashed into or near the pond since 2010. None more horrifying than the one which claimed the life of 25-year-old Marcus Staley III early June 10.
“I once asked a (deputy) sheriff several years ago why nothing was being done about it while we were watching the Vienna firemen lower a ladder down to our pond to rescue another car crash victim,” Boyer wrote in an e-mail the morning after Staley’s wreck. “He said, someone had to die before the NC state government would deign to raise a finger.”
“Last night someone did.”
Sad and familiar story
The official version of the crash, as written by a trooper with the N.C. Highway Patrol, is dry and familiar.
Staley’s death even went unreported for more than a week, until a standard two-page form showed up online.
Vehicle 1 was traveling southeast on Old 421. Vehicle 1 failed to stop at the intersection of SR-1305 (Conrad Road) and Old 421, crossed over SR 1305 and ran off the roadway straight ahead. Vehicle 1 then struck a tree and overturned on its top. Vehicle 1 caught fire after impact with the tree.
A small-print box on the second page of the form estimated that Staley had been driving about 65 mph, 10 mph above the posted speed limit. Fast but not exceedingly so for that stretch of road.
To Boyer, there was so much more to it than a few declarative sentences. A young man died—the very outcome she’d been warning transportation officials about for years.
Staley, according to online remembrances, was born in 1995, grew up in Asheboro and lived most recently in Winston-Salem. He was a 2017 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, his a degree in communications.
He did freelance work as a photographer and an artist, worked for the Fox affiliate in Raleigh, the Yadkin Riverkeeper and at the Katharine Brasserie and Bar downtown. His parents, an older sister and his grandmothers survive.
And that’s what hit Boyer the hardest: thinking about parents who outlived a child. She sought out his family to offer her condolences before resuming her campaign for additional safety measures at that intersection.
“I am haunted by last night,” she wrote. “The trees and the ground are burnt where this man died a horrible needless death,” Boyer said. “I will be haunted by this for many years to come, and so will everyone who lives here. I do not want to even think about how his family must feel.”
In August 2017, authorities dragged a stolen car out from the pond. A dry spell had lowered the water level enough to where a 2010 Nissan Altima was visible. The car had been stolen, and fortunately for the thief, he (or she) was able to duck a tragedy.
Chief Tim Lasley of the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department reported after divers recovered the car that it’s front door had been opened underwater.
In discussing that discovery that morning, the Boyers said that at least 15 cars have ended up in or near the pond since they bought their home in 2010.
“That’s not an exaggeration,” Kel Boyer told a Journal reporter. “I’ve opened up several cases with the (N.C.) Department of Transportation.”
More study needed
The problem with the intersection is two-fold.
As compared with many of the other hundreds of miles of state-maintained roads in Forsyth County, Conrad Road isn’t exceptionally busy. Accepted guidelines suggest that the stop sign a hundred yards or so away from Old US 421 River Park ought to be sufficient.
Beyond that, road improvement budgets are finite. Population growth and development demands that dollars be spent on such big-scale projects as Salem Parkway and the long-promised Northern Beltway that carry tens of thousands of vehicles every single day.
Smaller projects must wait their turn on lists of priorities.
Still, as is always the case when human beings are involved, emotions over the loss of life makes needs more urgent.
The Boyers understand all that, and posit that a flashing warning light would help alert motorists particularly on dark nights or overcast days. A reduction in the posted 55 mph speed limit could, too.
“My husband has been fighting for some form of help with this road for years,” Tina Boyer said.
Pat Ivey, the chief engineer for the DOT in Forsyth County, is well aware of danger spots and the allocation of resources.
Since Staley’s death, crews have installed a bigger stop sign and trimmed trees and brush within the right of way to increase visibility. “Sufficient sight distance now exists for the posted speed limit,” Ivey said.
In addition, work orders have been issued to refresh reflective STOP AHEAD pavement markings. A more prominent flashing yellow warning sign will have to wait until a formal review is complete in about a month.
“NCDOT traffic engineers are currently investigating the crashes at this intersection to determine if there are safety improvements that could help and if so, how these improvements might be funded.”
Awareness of the problem—and interim safety measures—are a start. It’s too late for Marcus Staley, but preventing another fatality may well be a fitting addition to a young man’s legacy.