Chesterton Tribune

State and town sued over 2007 fatal crash at 49 and Gateway Blvd

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Porter County Commissioner John Evans, R-North, representing the estate of his mother-in-law, killed in an accident in October 2007 at the intersection of Ind. 49 and Gateway Blvd., is suing the State of Indiana and the Town of Chesterton, claiming that an improperly placed traffic signal caused that crash.

Evans and Belinda Petroskey, co-administrators of the estate of Virginia Wehner, filed that lawsuit on Tuesday in Porter Circuit/Superior Court. Petroskey is Wehner’s daughter.

According to Chesterton Police, Wehner, 76, of Portage, was a front-seat passenger in a vehicle driven by Nancy Samuelson, also of Portage. On the morning of Oct. 23, police said, Samuelson was southbound on Ind. 49 when she attempted to turn left onto eastbound Gateway Blvd. At that time, witnesses advised police, Samuelson had a red left-turn light, turned against it, and was broadsided on the passenger’s side by a pickup truck northbound on Ind. 49 and driven by Jeffrey Everaert of Kouts. Police said that Everaert had a green light.

Wehner had to be extricated from Samuelson’s Oldsmobile. She was transported to Porter Valparaiso Hospital Campus but died there later of her injuries.

As the Chesterton Tribune reported at the time, the Oct. 23 crash was not the first of its kind at that intersection. On Sept. 9, 2007, 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 could be confusing, as the left-turn signal for motorists southbound on Ind. 49 was actually located east of the median and over the left-turn lane of northbound Ind. 49. There are three other signals for southbound traffic—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.

Also at the time, Chesterton Police Chief George Nelson told the Tribune that the CPD had discussed with INDOT the light configuration at the intersection but that INDOT had indicated no desire to alter it. Between Sept. 31, 2006, and Oct. 1, 2007, Nelson said, the CPD, the Porter County Sheriff’s Police, and the Indiana State Police investigated a total of 16 accidents with nine injuries at that intersection, although it was unclear how many of those accidents involved a southbound motorist’s turning left against a red light.

On Oct. 24, two hours after the Tribune advised the Indiana Department of Transportation’s LaPorte District of the circumstances surrounding the fatal crash at Ind. 49 and Gateway, the LaPorte District announced that it would conduct an investigation of that intersection. INDOT never released the findings of that investigation but within a month it had re-located the left-turn signal for southbound motorists and placed it directly in front of the left-turn lane.

Evans’ suit names four defendants: the State of Indiana, INDOT, the Town of Chesterton, and the Chesterton Street Department. That suit makes five specific claims:

•That the defendants “have the responsibility to design, construct, install, and maintain the intersection of Ind. 49 and Gateway Blvd. and its traffic control devices.”

•That they have the responsibility of doing so such that the intersection “was reasonably safe for use by persons exercising ordinary care.”

•That they “breached that duty” in that the defendants “did not properly place the left-turn device controlling southbound traffic on Ind. 49 attempting to turn left or east onto Gateway Blvd.”

•That they “knew or should have known of this dangerous condition for an extended period of time; during that time there were multiple motor vehicle crashes proximately caused by said defect.”

•That the crash “occurred as a direct and proximate result of the failure of the defendants to properly design, construct, install, and maintain said intersection.”

Evans and Petroskey are seeking “such sum as will fairly, reasonably, and adequately compensate” Wehner’s estate and “for all other just and proper relief.”


Posted 11/21/2008