Arundel highway claims another victim
Death of girl, 17, adds to toll on deadly Mountain Road
A wreath in autumn colors is placed next to a vacant house on Mountain Road. It is part of a memorial to Kala Marie Austin, 17, who was killed in a single car accident after loosing control of her car and striking the house on Mountain Road near Pinehurst Road. (Baltimore Sun photo by Kim Hairston / October 21, 2011)
"We just held our breaths every time she was on Mountain Road until she got to be an experienced driver," she said.
Across from the crash site, at a business called the Best Little Machine Shop, an electronic sign last week read: "God Bless Kala Austin. May She Rest in Peace."
Kevin Fisher, owner of the shop, said that each weekday, the rush hour traffic starts up at 3:30 p.m. and doesn't let up until after 6:30. He said most of the road's problems come down to speed and volume of traffic.
"There have been a lot of head-ons," he said. "People just fly down this road."
It's a sensitive subject in the area.
Katie Weaver, who works at the diesel-repair shop in the same building, said she shared classes with Kala at Chesapeake High. Her father, Bob, who owns the business, said two of his son's friends — Jason Coburn, 19, and Michael Medura, 21 — died in a 2007 crash just up the road from Kala's crash.
That crash, like many that have occurred on Mountain Road in the past decade, was listed by police as alcohol-related. In some cases, the crashes have involved drinking drivers or motorcyclists; in several, pedestrian victims were found to have been intoxicated. SHA figures show there were at least 107 fatal and nonfatal crashes related to drunken driving on the road from 2001 to 2010.
Waltemeyer, whose division patrols Pasadena, said Mountain Road and the surrounding area has the highest rate of drunken-driving arrests and crashes in the county. One reason, he suspects, is the abundance of taverns doing business on the road.
"That's a factor," he said. One reason police increase patrols along the road at night, he said, is that "we know at 2 a.m. those bars are going to let out."
Waltemeyer said police have made the road a priority for sobriety checkpoints and for speed enforcement. But he added that the road presents particular challenges for traffic enforcement, including a lack of shoulders on which to pull drivers over. He said officers try to direct violators to pull into parking lots but often have to use their public address systems when drivers stop in the roadway.
While local residents agree about the problems, few see any solutions.
"I hear people voicing their concerns for the number of accidents, but I don't hear people knowing how to change the road so it will work better," said Sandy Murphy, who works near the end of the peninsula.
County Councilman Derek J. Fink, a Republican whose district includes Mountain Road, said he's aware of concern about safety on the highway but is not aware of any organized effort to demand specific changes.
"I'm just not 100 percent positive where we can go with this at this point," Fink said.
Lee Starkloff, chief engineer of the highway agency district that includes Anne Arundel, said the fatality rate on Mountain Road is not disproportionate to that of other roads. But he also said it's difficult to compare it to other highways because of its unusual three-lane configuration for much of its length.
"It's basically a safe road," Starkloff said.
He noted that state records show no record of dangerous intersections. But overwhelmingly, crashes over the past two decades have involved single vehicles leaving the road and hitting fixed objects, or pedestrians who were hit while crossing or walking along the road.
Starkloff said the state has made safety-related improvements over the years, including replacing a flashing light with a full-color signal at Route 100 and installing traffic signals at several intersections. But he acknowledged that it poses some particular challenges.
One is that as traffic volumes have grown, there's been little room to expand the road. He said land in the area is mostly privately owned almost up to the pavement. He said that when the third lane was added in the mid-1990s for congestion relief, the project was accomplished only after overcoming fierce local opposition.