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Treacherous intersection claims another life

SCENE:Police say the five-way intersection where Indiana 9, County Road 600 North and Broadway Streetis the scene of many serious accidents.

by Andrew Maciejewski - amaciejewski@h-ponline.com

HUNTINGTON — A 19-year-old Fort Wayne woman died Thursday around noon at an intersection police and neighbors said is “ridiculous,” “stupid” and a hotspot for serious accidents.

Multi-colored broken pieces of bumpers and headlights litter the grass surrounding the five-point intersection of Ind. 9, Huntington County Road 600 North and Broadway Street, in Clear Creek Township. Huntington County Sheriff’s Department (HCSD) Chief Deputy Chris Newton said the Dec. 13 accident was not an isolated incident.

“I think it’s a stupid intersection. It is ridiculous,” Newton said. “Throughout our history here being in emergency services, there have been far too many accidents and losses of life at that particular intersection … So far this year we’ve had four that stick our in my mind – four terrible, terrible crashes. A couple could have resulted in more losses of life, and we were just lucky.”

Tori Lynn Andress died of blunt force trauma to the head after she pulled off of Broadway Street into the path of a semi truck that was traveling northbound on Ind. 9, according to Huntington County Coroner and HCSD reports.

The truck driver attempted to avoid the collision but was unsuccessful, and Andress was ultimately pinned in the vehicle and declared dead at the scene, according to HCSD reports.

HCSD Sgt. Chad Hammel said their investigation found that Andress came to a complete stop before entering the intersection but said that the intersection has proven to be confusing to drivers.

Newton agreed, saying there needs to be change at the multi-leg intersection.

“I know the state does realize that because there are plans in place to move Broadway over to the east more, but they can’t get it done soon enough – not for me,” Newton said.

There is not an active project at the site currently, according to Indiana Department of Transportation’s database, but INDOT communications director Nichole Hacha-Thomas said this doesn’t mean the project isn’t happening or planned, since it could be in preliminary stages and hasn’t received funding yet.

A property owner adjacent to the crash site who responded to the scene moments after he heard the crash also wants change, now.

“I’d like to see something done because we’ve lost a human life. Are we waiting on funding? They really need to come down here now and take a hard look at it since we’ve had another wreck and another fatality that might have been prevented if we had a different situation right here,” Larry PeGan said.

PeGan said this is the sixth serious crash in the past month and a half. He said a car went through his neighbor’s house about a month ago. Two days later there were two wrecks in his yard, with another happening the day after that. A few weeks later, he said a tri-axle truck full of asphalt that tore struck a woman at the intersection, which her vehicle apart.

PeGan said there are two common accidents in the area. He said cars driving southbound on Ind. 9 have lost control or fallen asleep near the bend in the highway just north of the five-point intersection, or he said cars become confused then Broadway converges with Ind. 9 and CR 600 North.

PeGan said the way Andress’ car came to rest led him to believe that she made a mistake he has seen many times before. He said anytime he or his wife hear a crash, they grab a fire extinguisher, call 911 and jump into action.

“We can hear it in the house and we know exactly what it is,” he said. “She’s automatically on the phone.”

He and his wife often hear that accident victims are driving north on Broadway and become confused when their GPS tells them to turn left but don’t realize that they can either turn left onto CR 600 North or left onto Indiana 9. He said they may hesitate in the intersection and get struck before an oncoming car can see them on the bend and react.

“When we’re talking to them before the ambulance gets there they’re just like, ‘Nobody was coming. Nobody was coming. I didn’t see anybody,’” he said.

PeGan said he would also like to see rumble strips put in around the bend, since he said the second most common accident involves people going off the road and into trees, a field or in a recent case, someone’s bedroom.

“The car that went through the house, we’re lucky nobody was in that bed,” Officer Newton said. “That car went right over the top of that bed that was in there, and for a time we thought a child was in there.”

Michael Hofmann, who’s home was hit, said he plans to begin patching the hole left from the accident, which he said was nearly fatal.

“Our daughter-in-law and two grandkids were staying in there, and it had just so happened that they had left that morning 15, 20 minutes before that car plowed into it,” Hofmann said. “That car was in the house, so they woulda been killed. That was a nightmare.”

Hofmann said he’s witnessed a car full of Huntington University students hit a tree outside of his home and another crash where someone hit his propane tank.

“He’s lucky he walked away and didn’t blow up,” Hofmann said.

He said he feels unsafe in his home and worries for his family’s livelihood but also doesn’t want to sell the home to another family.

“If somebody else got hurt I would feel bad,” he said. “It’s just a bad deal.”

All of the neighbors and law enforcement want to see change, immediately.

“I would like to see the county work with the state to come up with a viable plan to make this thing safer down here for people … I don’t think even flashing lights would help because you’ve got five points coming into the thing,” PeGan said. “It’s not going to be any good. The whole intersection needs to be revamped.”