“The light turned green and our lives pretty much changed forever. My sister was killed,” Doug Martin told the West Plains City Council during its regular meeting Tuesday.
Martin recounted the story of the traffic crash that claimed his sister and severely injured her husband.
The crash occurred on the evening of Jan. 20, and according to Martin, his sister Anna Hambelton and her husband Victor were heading home after attending their granddaughter’s basketball game.
The initial police report of the crash shows that, as the two crossed U.S. 63 from Gibson Avenue to CC Highway, a northbound semitruck struck their car on the driver’s side. The driver of the truck is currently under criminal investigation.
“Since 2017 there have been 58 automobile crashes there,” Martin said of the intersection where his sister was killed. “I don’t say accidents, because as far as I’m concerned, they’re not accidents, for the vast majority of them, because they’re purposely running red lights.”
Martin asked the city council what could be done and what changes could be made to the intersections along the U.S. 63 bypass. He suggested changing the delay between red and green traffic signals, moving the lines further back from the intersections or installing warning lights at the approaches to certain intersections.
Martin said he contacted the Missouri Department of Transportation about the U.S. 63 and CC Highway intersection and said he was told that MoDOT won’t install warning lights at the intersection, similar to the ones found on U.S. 60 through Seymour, because those lights are meant for higher speed zones.
According to City Administrator Tom Stehn, the city has approached MoDOT about making changes to the intersection, but he didn’t say if any progress has been made.
“They’re not keen on the flashing red lights like what they have at Seymour,” said Stehn, who served as a MoDOT district engineer for 15 years before becoming city administrator in 2011. He noted MoDOT is in the process of removing some of them from other highways. “They’re planning on putting an interchange in Seymour and bringing it up to a freeway standard.”
The Quill reached out to Elquin Auala, an area engineer with MoDOT, about future improvements to the U.S. 63 Bypass or the possibility of constructing a new truck bypass around the city.
“We simply don’t have the funds to put in a new bypass or interchanges,” she said. “We’re just trying to take care of what we got.”
However, Auala said, if the city puts up some funds for improvements, it might be possible. She referred to the city of Poplar Bluff’s efforts in adding lanes to U.S. 67 as one example.
“To raise the kind of money needed for a truck bypass, I think it would be too expensive for the city and people wouldn’t go for it,” she said. Auala added that speeding and running red signals is more of a law enforcement issue than a transportation issue.
The West Plains Police Department and Troop G of the Missouri State Highway Patrol were not able to return the Quill’s requests for comment before press time.
“We’re kind of at a standstill right now,” Martin said in a phone call Wednesday afternoon. He added that he and his family have been trying to get more information from the city and MoDOT about proposed changes to the intersection at U.S. 63, CC Highway and Gibson Ave.
“There’s small changes they could make now that could make a difference,” said Martin.
Currently, there are eight lighted intersections on the U.S. 63 bypass within city limits. There are plans to add a ninth after the city connects Fifth Street to the bypass to allow access to Ozarks Medical Center as part of the hospital’s expansion project.