Chesterton Tribune

Photos: Fatal at 49 and Gateway not the first accident at confusing intersection

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"Extremely hazardous" intersection: A view this morning from the median of Ind. 49, looking south, shows the left-turn signal for eastbound Gateway Blvd. located east of the median and separated from the through and right-turn signals. A motorist southbound on Ind. 49 may confuse the leftmost through signal for the left-turn signal, observe the leftmost through signal to be green, and mistakenly believe that he has a green left-turn light.                                       (Tribune photo by Kevin Nevers)

Accident scene Tuesday looking north

(Tribune photo by Vicki Urbanik)

 

By KEVIN NEVERS

A Portage woman died on Tuesday of injuries sustained in a three vehicle accident at the intersection of Ind. 49 and Gateway Blvd.

Porter County Victoria Deppe identified the victim as Virginia Wehner, 76, and said that she died of blunt force trauma to the chest and head.

According to Chesterton Police, Wehner was a front-seat passenger in a 1995 Oldsmobile driven by Nancy Samuelson, 48, of Portage, who was attempting to turn left from southbound Ind. 49 onto eastbound Gateway Blvd. Witnesses advised investigators that Samuelson had a red left-turn light, turned against it, and was broadsided by a 1999 Chevrolet Tahoe northbound on Ind. 49

The driver of the Tahoe, Jeffrey Everaert, 57, of Kouts, had a green light when he entered the intersection northbound on Ind. 49, police said.

After colliding with the Tahoe, police said, Samuelson struck a third vehicle, a 2005 Pontiac G6 westbound on Gateway Blvd. and stopped for a red light in the left-turn lane. The driver of the Pontiac was Linda Titow, 56, of Valparaiso.

Wehner had to be extricated from the Oldsmobile by the Chesterton Fire Department, was transported to Porter Valparaiso Hospital Campus, but died there later of her injuries.

Tuesday’s accident is by no means the first of its kind at that intersection. As recently as Sept. 9 three persons were injured under exactly the same circumstances, when a motorist southbound on Ind. 49 attempted to turn left onto eastbound Gateway Blvd. against a red light and was broadsided by another motorist northbound on Ind. 49.

The CPD officer who investigated the Sept. 9 accident noted in his report that the configuration of the traffic signals at the intersection can be confusing, as the left-turn signal for motorists southbound on Ind. 49 is actually located east of the median and over the left-turn lane of northbound Ind. 49. There are three other signals–one for each of the two southbound through lanes and one for the southbound right-turn lane–but they are located directly above their respective lanes and west of the median.

Thus a motorist southbound on Ind. 49 and approaching the intersection of Gateway Blvd. from a distance could potentially confuse the leftmost through signal for the left-turn signal, see that the leftmost through signal is green, and mistakenly believe that he has a green light to turn left onto eastbound Gateway Blvd.

In fact the woman who turned against the red left-turn light in the Sept. 9 accident advised the investigating officer after the crash that she was uncertain whether she had been looking at the left-turn signal or one of the other three signals for southbound motorists.

On Oct. 4 a police officer serving with a law enforcement agency elsewhere in Porter County e-mailed the Chesterton Tribune with his concerns about that intersection, which he described as “extremely hazardous.”

“The problem is the setup of the intersection,” the officer observed in his e-mail. “The turn lane makes a slight jog to the left just before where the vehicles are required to stop, and the turn light is actually over the northbound lanes rather than the southbound lanes, where the lights for the through lanes are located. The intersection is the only one designed like that (and only for the south turn lane) anywhere on Ind. 49. What the drivers are doing is looking at the turn signals over the southbound lanes and then turning when they indicate green, rather than looking to the left and up, where their turn arrow is located. They then turn when the light shows green for through traffic, and it is red for the turn lane. At that point, the light is also green for northbound traffic through the intersection, which creates a very dangerous intersection.”

Chesterton Police Chief George Nelson told the Tribune that the CPD has discussed the light configuration at that intersection with the LaPorte District of the Indiana Department of Transportation but that INDOT has indicated no desire to alter it. Nelson did say that a delayed signal there would “minimize the human factor” and go far to solving the problem. “A delayed signal would allow all southbound flow to proceed while holding northbound flow and the reverse.”

Nelson added that in the last 10 months, from Jan. 1 to Oct. 1, the CPD has responded to a total of 16 accidents at that intersection with nine injuries, although he was unable to say immediately how many of those crashes involved southbound motorists turning left against a red light.

As of deadline today, a representative of the LaPorte District of the Indiana Department of Transportation had not returned a call to the Tribune.

Lt. Dave Lohse of the CPD urged motorists northbound on Ind. 49 and approaching the intersection of Gateway Blvd. to use particular caution, since their view of southbound traffic is often obscured by semi-tractor trailers stacked in the left-turn lane for the Indiana Toll Road. Should a motorist southbound on Ind. 49 attempt to turn left against a red light, a motorist northbound on Ind. 49 would be unlikely to see him until it’s too late to avoid collision, he said.

Chesterton Town Council Member Jim Ton, R-1st, who serves as liaison to the CPD, said this morning that he will suggest at the council’s next meeting, Nov. 13, that it ask the LaPorte District of INDOT to conduct an investigation of the intersection. “I will make it a priority that this be pushed and will make the appropriate phone calls.”

 

Posted 10/24/2007