Roadside residents want protection from speeders

Bob Johnston was giving his 21-month-old son, T.J., a bath in his home on Windsor Mill Road in Franklintown the night of Dec. 18 when he felt "a god-awful shaking" and looked outside.

Three lawns away, a large van had crashed into a neighbor's home. In Johnston's front yard, a small tree decorated for Christmas was in disarray. "I saw all the balls that my wife put on the tree on the ground, and I thought, 'He went right through the yard,'" Johnston said.

The van, registered to the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, had actually driven through three yards, gone airborne off a 6-foot embankment and clipped the home of Samuel Johnson, who said he heard "a loud boom along with a lot of screeching" before he jumped off his couch and ran toward the rear of his home. The van then smashed into the porch of Juan Tejada, who said the collision sounded "like a bomb."

The residents were startled, but not exactly surprised. The accident was not the first to threaten homes or cause damage on the street, where the 30 mph speed limit is often ignored, said residents, who have been pressing county officials for help.

Over the past five years, a two-mile stretch of the road — which cuts northwest from Leakin Park and the city line toward Woodlawn — has seen an accident with property damage every other week, on average. Those living on the stretch just past Kernan Hospital, where some homes are just feet from the road, say the area has become dangerous.

"If you surveyed any one of the residents in the 5400 block or the 5500 block, they'll all tell you the speeding in there is excessive and dangerous," said Gino Secola, a resident of the street for more than 20 years who says his home has been hit by cars three times. "One of these days, one of us is going to be standing in our yard and is going to get killed."

County police say there have been no fatalities on the stretch of road since 2008 — a fact that surprised some residents — and the road does not stand out to them as particularly problematic.

"I don't believe that the road is a troublesome road," said Lt. Chad Rosay, assistant commander of the Woodlawn Precinct. "But I do know that we get speeders up there, and we address them through enforcement."

Residents say enforcement is lacking. And fatalities or not, there have been plenty of accidents along the road. Residents say many are caused when southbound drivers come down a large nearby hill and don't expect residents to be turning into driveways or other motorists to be stopped, waiting to turn onto a side street.

Last year, for example, there were 11 hit-and-run accidents that caused property damage along the two-mile stretch between the city line and Gwynn Oak Avenue, according to police statistics. One, on Valentine's Day, totaled resident Krystle Housley's car, which was legally parked on the street.

"I came out and the whole side of my car had been sideswiped," she said. Another car of Housley's was hit on St. Patrick's Day, she said. Then, on New Year's morning, yet another car of hers was hit and totaled shortly before 5 a.m., she said.

"That's three in a year," she said. "I'm dead asleep and I hear this crash and I open my eyes and I say, 'That's my car.'"

Over the past five years, there were 133 accidents causing property damage along the two-mile stretch, including 29 that were hit-and-run incidents. There were also 31 accidents causing personal injury, one of which was a hit-and-run, and four accidents involving county-owned vehicles.

The Dec. 18 crash sent the driver, a corrections officer, to Maryland Shock Trauma Center with non-life-threatening injuries, police said. An investigation of the crash led to no citations, which means officers determined that speeding and other traffic violations were not involved, said Cpl. Cathy Batton, a police spokeswoman.

Residents say that's ridiculous.

There were also no traffic citations issued in the New Year's accident, Batton said, although the driver was cited for five offenses, including driving without a registration and license.

In September, the Franklintown Community Association surveyed residents and found all who responded want the county to step in to better control traffic. President Jack Lattimore said the association previously requested that the county conduct an engineering study of the road as well, but the request was denied.

In November, the association held a meeting with police and county officials, including County Councilman Ken Oliver, to air their grievances.

"There were a lot of neighbors there getting pretty riled up," Lattimore said.

Residents were promised the issue would be investigated, and a large, electronic sign that displays motorists' speeds was placed on the road. The sign has helped, residents say, but Lattimore said he was told by police it won't remain there for long, because different precincts in the county share it.

"Then we'll be back to the Talladega Speedway, as some of our neighbors call it," he said.

Oliver said last month that the county's Department of Public Works was looking into the issue. On Wednesday, he said he believed the road is not problematic and questioned whether accidents have occurred recently.

"What the community has told you happened two or three years ago," he said. Before he could be asked to comment on the fact that there have been a number of more recent incidents, he abruptly ended a conversation with a reporter.

David Fidler, a county public works spokesman, expressed surprise at the number of accidents along the two miles of Windsor Mill Road — which he called "pretty high for that small stretch."

But Fidler said accident statistics along the road "have not triggered the Department of Public Works' traffic engineers to do a study."

Because Windsor Mill is a "feeder road" for highways in the area such as Interstate 70 — which has had its own history of dangerous drag racing — it "probably would not qualify" for other traffic-calming measures such as speed bumps, Fidler said.

"It's a matter of perspective," he said. "They're rightfully concerned about their community, but it may not merit the same level of concern from traffic engineers, and there's a limit to what public works can do about the design of roads."

Residents said they are frustrated by such explanations. At the least, more speed-limit signs could be installed, they said.

Dan Knott, a 25-year resident of the street, said that "it has always been bad, but in recent years, it has gotten worse."

Not long ago, a truck came barreling through the neighborhood, "pulverized" a retaining wall surrounding Knott's yard and drove into a tree, the truck's speed forcing its front wheels vertically into the sky.

"When the truck finished riding up that tree, you could walk under it like a bridge," Knott said. "And that tree was the only thing stopping it from our porch."

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