Deadly highway: 7 fatalities prompt billboard warning
The billboard may not win a Clio. But all Albemarle County Police really want is to stop the carnage on U.S. 29 south of Charlottesville.
Unlike its more heavily traveled counterpart north of town, the southern Monacan Trail end of U.S. 29 is usually a pretty easy, uncongested drive. So when the 2009 death toll between I-64 and the Nelson County line reached seven by October, Albemarle County Police looked for a way to slam the brakes on those grim statistics.
"It's a disturbing trend," says Lieutenant Todd Hopwood, who noted December 17 that there were no fatalities on 29 South the previous four years. Yet during the last week of October, two accidents took three lives in a couple days, and within a quarter-mile of each other. One was activist farmer Kathryn Russell, who was struck crossing 29 at Plank Road October 22 and thrown from her truck.
Why the sudden spate of deaths? Police found two things in common: five of the seven were not wearing seatbelts, and five were from out of town.
In a multi-agency effort, Albemarle police have stepped up patrols and added rumble strips and a radar-equipped, your-speed-is sign.
AAA of the Mid-Atlantic sprang for the $1,500 billboard near Crossroads Store that warns of the strict enforcement. The billboard went up December 7 for the holidays and will go up again in the spring, says AAA's Windy VanCuren.
The buckle-up warnings have been repeated a million times before, but with seven deaths in a short stretch of road and short period of time, VanCuren hopes the message sinks in: "Most of these could have been avoided."