Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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March 7, 2014

Residents voice concerns over U.S. Route 52 dangers

BLUEWELL — In the wake of a tragic crash that claimed the lives of two children Wednesday evening, people who live and work along U.S. Route 52 spoke of the hazards they see along the highway every day.

The fatal crash in front of the Deliverance Temple in Brushfork was not the only collision that stretch of highway had experienced Wednesday. Another three-vehicle crash occurred earlier that same day in Bluewell; one woman was transported to Bluefield Regional Medical Center.

 A third crash, a single-vehicle incident in the Vivian area of McDowell County, occurred that same day, said Sgt. C.F. Kane of the West Virginia State Police Welch detachment. One adult male passenger was transported to a Mercer County hospital. The driver, Joseph Hubbard, 38, of Princeton, was arrested at the scene and charged with DUI with injury, reckless driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

In McDowell County, the two-lane highway has few places where motorists can pass each other, and drivers who are not familiar with the mountainous region can find it challenging, Kane said.

“Basically, the issues we have are with people who aren’t familiar with the roads from this area,” he stated.

Speeding is another issue on Route 52 along with drivers trying to pass each other in areas where crossing the center line is not allowed, he added.

“We take that very seriously because we know how dangerous that is,” Kane said. “We try to educate them. Those lines are on the road for a reason.”

Troopers with the Welch detachment try to help patrol Route 52 in the Bluewell and Brushfork areas when possible, Kane stated.

Troopers based at the state police detachment in Princeton have seen numerous crashes on Route 52, said First Sgt. M.R. Crowder. Numerous businesses in the Bluewell and Brushfork area create many opportunities for drivers to leave and exit the highway. The highway also sees a large volume of coal trucks, tractor-trailers and other commercial traffic.

The fact that Route 52 connects with Route 20, Lorton Lick Road, and Route 123 in the Bluewell and Brushfork areas takes troopers to that area of Mercer County frequently, Crowder said.

“Many of our investigations take us through that area,” he said. “We’re out there quite often.”

Troopers have done speed checks along Route 52 and the Princeton detachment now has radar guns for all its cruisers.

“Everyone has a radar unit, which is something we’ve never had in the past. We’ve always been short on radars and now we have new radars. And that’s because of the tickets we’ve been writing,” Crowder said.

Due to the hills in the area, not every location is ideal for checking speeds with a radar gun, he added.

Members of the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department, the law enforcement agency conducting the investigation along with the state police, were not available for comment Thursday.

People living and working along Route 52 between Bluefield and Bluewell see hazardous conditions almost every day. Julie Shanklin, 38, of Brushfork, said her family had just arrived at the Deliverance Temple when the fatal crash happened; she was home sick that night.

“A 10-second difference and it would have been my kids,” said Shanklin, who works at the nearby Alabaster Box Christian Book Store. “They had just literally pulled into the church parking lot.”

Shanklin said she travels Route 52 multiple times a day. A new traffic light at the intersection of Route 52 and Route 123 has helped make that part of the highway safer, but speeding is still a problem.

“People speed through here like crazy,” she said. “And at the church, it’s dangerous because you can’t see people waiting to turn. People need to slow down. Rarely do you see law enforcement out here to monitor that. Rarely.”

A frequent traveler on Route 52 said he has to watch out for speeding motorists and ones who pull out in front of him.

“I live in Welch,” said David Cox, 54. “I travel it quite often. People are flying, passing you, coming up on your bumper. One was so close the other day I thought it had gotten hooked on my trailer hitch. I had one pull out in front of me this morning.”

In Bluewell, drivers have to be especially alert for speeders and other drivers pulling into traffic, Shanklin added.

“If you grew up in Bluewell, you probably wouldn’t have a problem in the big city. It’s combat driving,” she said.

Further up the highway in Bluewell, people who live and work along Route 52 see speeding and other hazards everyday.

“I do,” said Rita Warden, 45, of Bluewell, who works at Gary’s Market. “I live right up here. People are speeding all the time. One lady goes across the road every day, and I’m always afraid somebody’s going to hit her. They don’t slow down.”

In the evening, school buses drop off children. “Little kids are getting off the bus and traffic won’t slow down,” Warden said.

Across the street at Ameli’s Department Store, Joyce Sarver, 71, of Bluewell, said drivers often go too fast in the stretch of highway between Brushfork and Bluewell.

“They start from the red light at Brushfork, and they come through like it’s a racetrack, and at the church they don’t slow down and give people a chance to get out,” Sarver said. “And when you go up 52, they pass you in the median like they’re going to a fire.”

At the nearby Cargo convenience store, the manager said there have been crashes in front of the store.

“I’m surprised more haven’t wrecked on that ice,” said Karen Bailey, 42, of Bluefield. “I’ve seen people, they’ll take that center lane and throw rocks and dust on everybody. They don’t want to go the speed limit. They don’t want to wait. A lot of big trucks travel through here, coal trucks and big rigs.”

Like other residents, Bailey thought speeding was a big part of the problem.

“Everybody needs to slow down,” she said, watching a tractor-trailer heading toward Brushfork. “He’s going too fast through here.”

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