'Multiple fatalities:' ODOT sued over highway intersection
Ron Adams is suing Jefferson County and the Oregon Department of Transportation for not taking action to fix the intersection, Bear Drive and Highway 97, where a collision killed his ex-wife.
Mid-afternoon last Aug. 18, a line of northbound cars waited for a driver to turn left from Highway 97 onto SW Bear Drive. The driver of a semi-truck did not brake in time for the slowing traffic and crashed into that line of cars. The semi then swerved into the southbound lane and collided head on with a Volvo, killing Nadia Rankov Adams instantly.
"She was a force of nature. She was an artist, an author, she was a singer, a poet," says Adams. She was the mother of their three children. "And her life was taken by the state's lack of action. They have failed."
That day at the morgue, Adams says he held Nadia's body in his arms. "I promised her I would get that intersection fixed."
In March, Jane Paulson, attorney for Rankov Adams' estate, filed an intent to sue Jefferson County and the State of Oregon. "My office is investigating the lack of action taken by Jefferson County, which inactions may have caused and/or contributed to Ms. Adams' death by not making the intersection—which has been known for several accidents, including multiple fatalities—safer to the public."
In the past five years, 15 serious accidents have occurred there. Many of the wrecks involved chain-reaction rear-end collisions when drivers slow to turn left.
In addition to Rankov Adams' death, a mother and her three sons were killed at that intersection in May of 2016.
"It's basically a death trap," says Adams. "The thing about the highway there is it has deep ditches on both sides. No space to pull over."
Rankov Adams drove between Redmond, where she lived, and Madras, where she worked.
"She actually asked her boss not to drive to that store specifically because 97 is such a dangerous road," says Adams. "And it scared her to drive it."
Adams says the intersection scared him back in the '80s when he drove to his job at Bright Wood.
"How many more people have to die before they take action?" says Adams.
Jefferson County and ODOT recognize the danger of this stretch of Highway 97. ODOT would like to address the issue immediately by closing Bear Drive and Eureka Lane at Highway 97.
People attending a public hearing April 28 did not like that idea, and neither does Adams.
"It's a Band-Aid," says Adams. "They need to widen it out and give it turn lanes just like they have the rest of the highway all the way through."
ODOT has said repeatedly they will not put left turn lanes at Bear Drive. Currently, 11,000 vehicles daily travel that length of Highway 97. As those traffic volumes increase, ODOT expects to reduce the number of access points along the highway. Bear Drive will not be one of those access points.
"We will not waste money on something that's not part of the long-term plan," says Bob Townsend with ODOT.
Townsend says ODOT wants to close Bear Drive as soon as possible. "We're comfortable proceeding now and not waiting because certainly there are going to be more accidents out there as time goes on."
ODOT will not move forward without backing from the county. Jefferson County Commissioners still want to weigh feedback from their constituents.
The county denied the estate's claim saying, "This accident occurred on Highway 97. Highway 97 is within the jurisdiction of the Oregon Department of Transportation."
Adams doesn't know how much money he'll ask for in his lawsuit. "I haven't even considered money," says Adams. "This isn't about money. This is about saving the lives of people who drive through there on a regular basis."
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