Calls for a roundabout at Petrolia and Kimball roads after latest accident

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The driver of a transport was killed at an accident on the corner of Petrolia Line and Kimball Road.

OPP identify 66 year-old driver of the transport

EDITOR’S NOTE:

The letter attached to this story contains graphic information which may trigger some people who have experienced trauma in the past.

Jolene DeGurse-MacDonald can still see the vivid details of the accidents she has seen at the corner of Petrolia Line and the Kimball Road.

Her family has owned homes on the corner for generations and she can recall the details of horrific accidents at the corner which claimed lives from the time she was five.

So, when a gravel truck and an SUV collided at the corner Monday, killing the driver of the transport, John George, 66, of Glencoe, and severely injuring the driver of the SUV, DeGurse-MacDonald could hold back no longer. Something had to change.

“To this day I continue to have nightmares about accidents. Mangled bodies. Excruciating screams. Agonizing moans. Death,” the high school English teacher wrote in a letter to Lambton County and St. Clair Township councillors Tuesday. “Yesterday my nightmares were once again a reality.”

DeGurse-MacDonald says over the years there have been safety improvements at the corner. In the 1970s, her mother, who still lives at the corner, convinced the local government to install an amber light, a larger stop sign and lower the speed limit to 70 km/h on Petrolia Line.

In the 1990’s, rumble strips were added, she says.

“The accidents continued. The fatalities mounted.”

DeGurse-MacDonald says she has talked with county road officials in the past who say the intersection has not been a priority in the past.

DeGurse-MacDonald says it should be. Her family watches as cars “blow through the stop sign” constantly.

And she’s worried about her family and friends who live on the corner. DeGurse-MacDonald’s mother and nephew were picking up sticks there the day before the most recent accident. Monday, her friend was supposed to be cutting the lawn where the transport came to rest that day.

“She put off doing it for whatever reason…she should have been out there cutting the lawn at that time, but wasn’t thank goodness.”

DeGurse-MacDonald says the county should immediately reduce the speed limit to 50 km/h on Petrolia Line and install an electronic sign to show how fast drivers are going.

And she says there should be a roundabout at the intersection. DeGurse-MacDonald recognizes land would have to be expropriated, but she believes it is the only way the corner will be safe for drivers.

Wednesday, St. Clair Township Mayor Steve Arnold gave notice that next month, he would ask councillors to ask staff to include the cost of a roundabout at Petrolia Line and Kimball Road in the 2021 budget.

DeGurse-MacDonald is hopeful something will be done so other families will be spared the agony of losing a loved one in a car accident at the corner. And so that her family and friends don’t have to deal with any more memories of people dying.

“It has a psychological impact on you and you carry that with you…You carry so much guilt…You feel like you want to do something and there is nothing you can do. There is nothing you can do. And guilt, it’s horrible to say but…hearing people dying and just wishing people had been killed instantly because that would have been more merciful or at the other end thinking maybe this person has hope and just going to them and telling them to hold on, help is coming and trying to keep people with you.”

DeGurse says her friend who lives at the corner is feeling that guilt now.

“This has an impact on her; she heard it happen, she didn’t see it happen, but she doesn’t want to talk about it…but she is struggling because of this. She met the family yesterday…we’re going to put a memorial garden there so they can come and be where he was.”

The letter attached to this story contains graphic information which may trigger some people who have experienced trauma in the past.

EDITOR:

NOTE: I am sending you a CC of an email that I am sending to St. Clair Township Council and the County of Lambton Council.

I am writing to you today, May 5, 2020. But really, I could have written this letter at any time over the past 46 years, as that is how far back my memory on this issue spans; back to 1974 when I was five years old.

I grew up on the farm on the North-East corner of the Kimball Road and Petrolia Line. Our family has been there for over 180 years with generation after generation farming the land.

When I was a child, we had a pear orchard and vegetable garden in the corner of the farm closest to the intersection. On the South-East corner was Sutherland’s Gas Station. I would have loved to go over there to buy a chocolate bar, but I was never allowed. It was just too dangerous to cross the road.

One of my earliest memories from my childhood is playing in the orchard and picking pears. On one fate-filled day, when I was about five years old, I vividly remember the screeching sound of metal on metal as two cars collided, looking up to see bodies flying out of the vehicles, and landing on the ground in front of me. I remember running, screaming in terror, into our house to get my mother to call the police. I remember going to the cupboard with her to grab some old sheets. I had told her there were dead people and at five years old, I knew the proper thing to do was to respectfully cover the bodies of the deceased. My mom told me to stay back as she covered the bodies, but I had already seen everything. It was too late.

And this would not be the last time.

Another accident that stands out was one where a young boy was in the back seat and his parents in the front. I remember him getting freed from the wreckage and coming over to sit beside me on the grass. We were both about 10 years old. I was the only child he saw in a sea of adults frantically trying to save his parents. I remember blood pouring out of their ears and thinking, ‘I didn’t know blood could pour out of your ears’. I think the boy was in too much shock to scream. He just sat there sobbing. Sadly, I was not in shock at all. By age 10, I had seen this happen so many times that it no longer shocked me. I was desensitized to seeing blood and death.

That’s not to say that I have not experienced trauma as a result of this. To this day I continue to have nightmares about accidents. Mangled bodies. Excruciating screams. Agonizing moans. Death.

Yesterday my nightmares were once again a reality. 

An extremely tragic accident occurred between a transport truck hauling gravel and an SUV. This was probably the most significant accident in regards to property damage on our farm. The transport and its load came very close to one of the houses. Houses and property can be repaired, so that is not the point I am making. 

The point is, in that very spot where the transport finally stopped, only 24 hours earlier, my mother and my young nephew were picking up sticks, getting the area ready for the grass to be cut. In fact, when the accident occurred, someone was supposed to be cutting grass in that area, but fortunately had put off doing it. 24 hours earlier or one hour later and this accident would have had a much different and potential devastating outcome for those I love. Sadly for two other families, their loved ones did pass away as a result of this accident.

Property can be repaired or replaced. Lives cannot.

As children, my siblings, my cousins and I played in this area and this is where our children now play. Yesterday, that area was torn up like a war zone. It is now the place where a man took his final breaths. Sadly, there was nothing that could be done to save him.

I cannot help but be filled with a range of emotions from extreme sadness to raging anger; in my 51 years nothing really has changed. This intersection continues to be incredibly dangerous.

I have honestly lost count of the number of collisions that have occurred at the “Tenth and Kimball”;  Petrolia Line (County Road 4) and Kimball Sideroad (County Road 31). It is one of the most dangerous intersections in St. Clair Township and Lambton County. I have witnessed too many collisions which also means I have witnessed too many deaths. 

Someone, somewhere, can provide you with the statistical details. 

I am writing to you to provide you with the impact this has had on me as a witness of countless avoidable accidents and tragic, preventable deaths. 

If this letter seems too graphic or inappropriate for you to stomach, well this is nothing compared to seeing it first hand. All I can do is describe it to you. I can write to you. I can petition you. But I do not have the power, other than the power of communication, to do something about it. However, you do have the power to make a change. 

I am imploring you; please act on what I am about to share with you. And act now.

Looking back to the 1970s, I remember my mom presenting a victim impact statement to local authorities in regard to the numerous accidents that happened at our intersection. Her petition effected some significant changes at the time. This included the speed limit being reduced to 70km/hour on Petrolia Line to the immediate east and west of Kimball Sideroad. A yellow flashing caution light was also affixed over the intersection to warn the oncoming traffic on Petrolia Line of the intersection. On the Kimball, the small stop signs were replaced with the largest size available and red flashing caution lights were installed on the stop signs and over the intersection. 

The accidents continued. The fatalities mounted.

In the 1990s, rumble strips were installed on the Kimball to both the north and south of Petrolia Line. Despite this, on a daily basis, you can still see cars blowing through the intersection not even stopping for the stop sign.

Frequently you will see the OPP parked at the corner. This is only a deterrent when they are present, otherwise vehicles on Petrolia Line speed through the intersection at over 90 km/hour, or faster, not heeding to the lowered speed of 70km/hour through that section.

Part of the problem is that Petrolia Line is a 90km/hour, 20 km stretch between Highway 40 and the Town of Petrolia without any stop signs. To add to this, very few people slow down to 70km/hour in this section. Petrolia Line is a major east-west artery through Lambton County.

The other part of the problem is the Kimball is an equally busy road as Petrolia Line, and although it was reduced back down to 80km/hour in recent years, people go long stretches without having to stop as it is a major north-south artery through Lambton County. For whatever reason, these motorists either miss the stop sign due to distraction (despite the rumble strips) or just do not pay close attention. At times, the view to the east can be obstructed from the rising sun and later in the day, the view to the west can be obstructed by the setting sun. I have witnessed people on their cell phones. For a variety of reasons, the traffic on the Kimball is proceeding into the intersection when there is oncoming traffic. 

When two extremely busy roads intersect, as does Petrolia Line and the Kimball Sideroad,  there is great potential for accidents to occur. Collisions are inevitable.

The traffic in this area will only continue to increase with the expansion of Nova. That means accidents and fatalities will continue to increase along with it.

About a year ago, I attended a Wide Load Corridor Meeting in Corunna. I spoke with Jason Cole, an engineer with the County of Lambton. I brought up the safety concerns I have regarding this intersection and asked him if there are any plans to install a four way stop, a traffic light, or a traffic circle.

He informed me that the intersection of County Roads 4 and 31 simply is not a priority. He listed several other intersections throughout Lambton County that are deemed more dangerous and thus a higher priority. He said it is just too cost prohibitive based on statistics. It just is not as important, although he admitted that he was very aware of the multiple collisions.

Statistics versus lives! Every dangerous intersection should be studied and acted upon with the best and safest solution implemented. Status Quo is not acceptable when accident after accident occurs, often resulting in fatalities. Can you honestly place a monetary value on a life? By not finding a safe solution to this intersection, the message I hear is that these fatalities just are not important enough. No value is placed on these lives.

For the families of the deceased, I am reaching out to you to finally do something about this intersection before more people lose their loved ones.

And like my mother in the 1970s, I am going to petition you with some solutions.

First, lower the speed limits! This action alone would make a significant impact. Reducing the speed limits to 50km/hour on both Petrolia Line and Kimball Sideroad would minimize the impact of collisions. This should be done from a minimum of 500m to 1000m from the intersection to the north, east and west. South of the intersection, it should be reduced to 50 km/hour from Rokeby Line to Petrolia Line due to it being a substantial residential area as well as having a bend in the road, which also has resulted in many accidents. In addition, it is important to install permanent speed display boards equipped with radar to warn people of their speed. This will have a psychological effect on people who are going over the speed limit. These measures can be implemented immediately. Proper signage and police presence at the intersection will greatly assist in implementing these changes.

Second, change the flow of traffic at the intersection! In the past, I thought that a four-way-stop or a traffic light were the solution, however, I have reconsidered these options. These would not alleviate the problems of head-on and side impact collisions for the simple fact that collisions are occurring because drivers do not stop at the stop sign that is currently there. The same problem would persist at a four-way-stop or traffic light. After the installation of the traffic circle at Mandaumin and Lakeshore, as well as several in the St. Mary’s/Stratford area, I have come to realize that installing a traffic circle at Petrolia Line and Kimball Sideroad is the best and only solution. This would completely eliminate the types of collisions that have been occurring at the intersection of Petrolia Line and Kimball Side Road. 

In reality, nothing has been done to eliminate the senseless collisions and the horrific deaths that have occurred in my lifetime. Any measures taken thus far have not had their intended impact. This does not need to continue.

You, however, are in the fortunate position to finally do something about this extremely dangerous intersection. Shall you decide to remain idle, please accept responsibility and ownership for all future collisions since you did nothing to rectify and remedy the situation. Inaction on the part of previous councils has led to innocent lives being taken in incredibly horrific accidents. Action today will put an end to this carnage.

Enough is enough. It is time for the Township of St. Clair and the County of Lambton to find a solution that will save lives. You need to take your civic responsibility and duty to ensure that the fatal accident that occurred yesterday is the last to transpire at this deadly intersection. 

It is not just my goal, but my hope and my dream, to see this intersection finally safe. I would love to look forward to my twilight years being filled with my future grandchildren running around where I did in my childhood; with a very significant difference. 

My hope is that my future grandchildren will not experience what I have. My hope is that they will never have to experience the horrific sounds of cars crashing and the sights of mangled wreckage strewn everywhere. My hope is that they will never have to witness the trauma of people screaming, then hearing those screams turn into moans, until those moans turn into silence. My hope is that they will never have to comfort someone as they are slipping into unconsciousness, begging for them to stay awake, because help is on the way. My hope is that they never see someone bleeding to death, realizing that someone’s someone wasn’t lucky enough to die instantly because instant death is far more merciful than the suffering being witnessed. My hope is that they will never have to find old sheets to cover the crumpled bodies of the deceased. My hope is that they will never have to sit beside a child as his parents die in front of his eyes. My hope is that they will never have nightmares and that they will never live with this trauma their entire lives.

If statistics have never had an impact to effect change, I am hoping that hearing my statement might be the catalyst for change.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to you on this matter. Please do not hesitate to contact me.

With sincere appreciation and gratitude,

Joeleen DeGurse-MacDonald