published Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Petition prompts precautions along Lee Clarkson Road curve in Chickamauga

Walker County road crews recently placed new traffic signs in the 1300 block of Lee Clarkson Road in Chickamauga, Ga. The added safety measures were suggested by the Georgia Department of Transportation.
Walker County road crews recently placed new traffic signs in the 1300 block of Lee Clarkson Road in Chickamauga, Ga. The added safety measures were suggested by the Georgia Department of Transportation.
Photo by Tim Barber.

Local officials have added more safety precautions on a Chickamauga, Ga., road that residents recently petitioned the county to fix.

Walker County road crews have installed larger caution signs and have ordered rumble strips to place at the entrance and exit of a curve on Lee Clarkson Road where a Gordon Lee High School student was killed recently.

The safety precautions were added after Beth Oliver Ibanez, a Gordon Lee High School parent, began a petition on Facebook to have the road fixed in mid-November. Nearly 700 people have now joined the group.

In the last five years, 17 wrecks have occurred on Lee Clarkson Road, nearly all within the sharp curve. Most of the crashes involved minor to severe injuries, Georgia State Patrol statistics show. Speed and wet road conditions were the main contributing factors for the wrecks.

Around the same time that Ibanez started her Facebook page, Georgia Department of Transportation officials said they received a request from her and from state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, to evaluate Lee Clarkson Road's condition.


2011: 5 accidents, 1 fatality, 1 serious injury (to date)

2010: 5 accidents, 3 injuries

2009: 3 accidents, 2 minor injuries, 1 visible injury

2008: 1 accident, 2 people injured

2007: 2 accidents, no injuries

2006: 1 accident, minor injury

Source: Georgia State Patrol

GDOT District Traffic Engineer Harry Maddox inspected the road and said he sent a letter to Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell with a list of recommended improvements. His recommendations included:

* Arrows painted on the road to indicate the direction of the curve.

* Post-mounted reflectors on each side of the road.

* Warning signs indicating curve ahead on both approaches.

* Thermoplastic centerline and edgeline striping.

"We were just recommending possible upgrades," Maddox said, "but didn't deem [the road] unsafe."

Walker County Emergency Services Director David Ashburn said the county already had planned to add more warning signs at the time GDOT made its recommendations.

The controversy over the road began after Jordan Queen, a Gordon Lee High junior, was killed on Nov. 9 when he crashed into a tree while driving through the curve. Queen was leaving the high school after wrestling practice when the wreck occurred.

Several weeks before Queen's death, another student, Kassidy Blevins, flipped her Jeep into a ditch when she drove through the curve. She was injured.

Parents concerned about the sharp curve in the road -- which is the quickest way to the high school -- asked the county through the petition to take another look at the road.

Some of the suggestions on the Facebook page included adding wide shoulders to the road, straightening the curve, cutting down the trees or putting up a guardrail in the curve, Ibanez said.

But Maddox said he didn't find any safety hazards on the road.

In his letter to Heiskell, Maddox also suggested the county could reimburse the costs to improve the road through a federal fund called the Off-system Safety Project, allocated for city and county road projects.

In a previous interview, Heiskell cited cost as one of the reasons the road couldn't be improved quickly. She said Wednesday that she would look at the costs to fix the road to evaluate if the county could apply for the federal money.

"We don't turn down free money," she said.

Ashburn estimated the recent improvements would cost several thousand dollars.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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