Sheriff Ken Furlong called on fellow police officers, road engineers and individual drivers to come together in a three-part plan to curb the high fatality rate on U.S. Highway 50 between Carson City and Churchill County.
“When is enough going to be enough?” he asked. “When are we going to call a stop to the madness?”
Furlong was joined by representatives from the Nevada Highway Patrol, sheriffs from Lyon and Churchill counties, and the director of the Nevada Department of Transportation for news conference Thursday in the parking lot at the Gold Dust West to address the crashes along what he has called “the most dangerous highway in the state.”
Five have died in two crashes since mid-June. More than 500 have been injured since 2008. In just over 5 1/2 years, 26 people were killed in car crashes from Churchill County to Carson Street.
Of those, 20 were in Lyon County.
“That’s 20 people who won’t be going home again,” said Lyon County Sheriff Allen Veil. “One is too many; 20 is unacceptable.”
Increased patrols along with some design changes to Highway 50, including frontage roads and median islands, are planned to increase safety. However, the most integral piece, officials stressed, will be drivers themselves.
“Act like that vehicle behind you is a NHP trooper or a sheriff’s deputy,” said Rudy Malfabon, director of the Nevada Department of Transportation. “We want drivers to think like that every day.”
Churchill County Sheriff Ben Trotter said drivers need to realize the responsibility they take on when getting behind the wheel.
“The most dangerous thing anybody does at any point during the day is get into the car,” he said.
Maj. Brian Sanchez of the Highway Patrol said he hopes businesses and community leaders will join law enforcement in posting reminders along the highway of the motto: Zero fatalities. Zero excuses.
“We begin a goal today to change driving behavior on Highway 50,” he said. “The goal of no tolerance is going to take everyone in the community coming together.”
Camille Vecchiarelli, a justice of the peace in Dayton, said she was glad to see the leaders coming together.
“What a neat way to say, look we have a problem and we’re doing something about it,” she said. “I’m excited to see us being proactive. People dying is unacceptable.”
However, Dayton resident Cathy Rigby, who was hoping to share her own ideas for a solution, said the conference fell short of her expectations.
“How dare all of you categorize us as bad drivers,” she shouted as the conference was concluding. “You’re going to bash all of us, but what are you going to do for us?”
She explained later she wanted to see dividers along the highway to prevent cars from crossing over into oncoming traffic.
“There’s nothing being done other than insulting us or patronizing us,” she said. “Center dividers are the only things that are going to save people.”
In an interview after the news conference, Malfabon said dividers are not a practical solution for that area of highway because there are so many homes and businesses along the way.
Furlong continued to emphasize the importance of personal responsibility, pointing to Natasha Gibson, who attended the conference. Her two children Alexis, 8, and Colton, 3, were killed in a car accident April 22 when their father, had high levels of methamphetamine in his system. He crossed the center lane into oncoming traffic.
“Our objective is to change the character of the driver and never again have a mother lose her children,” he said. “We cannot be deterred from the path we’re going after right now — to save lives.”