Archive for Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Collisions on 24-40 heighten concerns

September 27, 2006

Last week, two collisions occurred on U.S. Highway 24-40 in Tonganoxie.

Wednesday afternoon, a 60-year-old Tonganoxie man was arrested after a two-car injury accident at U.S. Highway 24-40 and Ridge Street.

Kansas Highway Patrol trooper Brian Grunder said Robert Jiles was arrested for having an open container, driving while his license was revoked, leaving the scene of an injury accident and driving while intoxicated.

Jiles already was facing charges in court stemming from a separate incident. According to Deborah Owens of the Leavenworth County attorney's office, Jiles appeared in Leavenworth County District Court on Monday. That appearance regarded a July 7 traffic stop in Tonganoxie when Jiles was arrested for driving while intoxicated, driving while his license was revoked and for transportation of an open container. The case was continued until today.

Jiles, driving a 2002 Ford van last Wednesday, was driving west on U.S. Highway 24-40. He turned south toward Ridge Street and struck the driver's side of a 1987 Chevy driven by Brandon Willis, 19, Tonganoxie. Willis had been driving east in the outer lane.

According to Grunder, witnesses reported seeing Jiles walk away from the accident, heading toward the Ridge Circle Apartments.

Tonganoxie police officer Lt. Tony Hernandez said a sheriff's deputy captured Jiles outside the complex.

"We had a lot of good witnesses," Hernandez said. "I think we had five, including the lady sitting in her car by the pay phone waiting for her friend to come out of the store (near B&J Country Mart)."

Jiles, who was not wearing a seatbelt and who was alone in the vehicle he was driving, was not injured.

Willis was wearing a seatbelt. He went to University of Kansas Hospital where he was treated and released.

Friday afternoon, minutes after school was dismissed, a two-vehicle collision occurred at the intersection of U.S. 24-40 and Main Street.

According to Kansas Highway Patrol reports, 15-year-old Michelle Baker failed to yield at the stop sign on the south side of the intersection.

Baker's vehicle, a 1990 Pontiac, struck a 1997 Mercury mini van driven by Jennifer Fatherley, 35, Tonganoxie. Neither Fatherley nor her 11-year-old daughter, Shelby, was injured. Both were wearing seatbelts.

Baker, who was not wearing her seatbelt, was taken by ambulance to Providence Medical Center, Kansas City, Kan, where she was treated and released.

Fatherley, who lives north of Tonganoxie and crosses the highway intersection daily, said something needed to be done to make the intersection safer.

"We need more stoplights in this town," Fatherley said.

Her friend, Julie Jacobs, said she agreed.

"We pay enough, we ought to have them," Jacobs said. "What will it take."

Fatherley responded, "Probably a fatality."

City affair

At Monday's city council meeting, Tonganoxie fire chief Dave Bennett talked about the number of accidents on U.S. 24-40.

Since June 2002, Bennett said, the fire department had responded to 52 highway accidents in Tonganoxie.

Of those, Bennett said, 14 were at Main Street, the site of Friday's collision.

Bennett told council members he was "stunned" when he realized just how many accidents his department had worked.

"In four years, 30 to 40 people were injured, three of them being life-flighted," Bennett said. "It's my job to make the council and the mayor aware of safety problems."

Earlier Monday, Bennett had said he thought more stoplights on U.S. 24-40 were needed.

"I'm not the expert on traffic flow," Bennett said regarding what intersection most needed a stoplight. "But just in looking at the numbers, I'd say definitely at 24-40 and Main."

At Monday's council meeting, City Administrator Mike Yanez said he was surprised by the number of highway accidents.

"We need some control out here in Tonganoxie," Yanez said. "At least one more stoplight. I don't know where the heck you would put it."

State view

Tuesday morning, Joe Blubaugh, spokesperson for Kansas Department of Transportation, said he wasn't sure if, or when, Tonganoxie would qualify for another stoplight.

"It takes a traffic study," Blubaugh said. "We actually have to have certain warrants that have to be met before we put a traffic signal in at any location."

If city officials want another stoplight, they first must make an official request to KDOT.

"We look at the amount of traffic, at the safety aspects," Blubaugh said.

And, Blubaugh noted, a formal U.S. 24-40 corridor study -- which looks at 24-40 from Kansas Highway 7 to south of Tonganoxie -- currently is under way. The study will determine the corridor's needs for the next 20 to 30 years.

Blubaugh said he thought it's unlikely that an additional stoplight would be approved before the corridor study was complete. And though no official date has been set, he said it's possible that would be another two years.

Blubaugh said a long-range sort of pie-in-the-sky solution could be to have U.S. 24-40 bypass Tonganoxie.

"There's obviously zero plans for this at this point, but a long-range study like this (the corridor study) is usually a good start," Blubaugh said. "... That is not something that is anywhere on KDOT's radar at this time. We'll just have to see what the study has to say. ... You could swing north or south of town (Tonganoxie) without deviating from the current alignment."

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