Carnage kills and maims all too often in the place where America’s loneliest road grows less lonely and more deadly in Lyon County and Carson City.
U.S. Highway 50, called the loneliest road in America by Life magazine in 1986, runs from sparsely populated central Nevada west through Fallon and Dayton into Nevada’s capital city, leaving in this more congested area a trail of accidents and tears in recent years. Deadly crashes recently have elevated the stretch of road beyond troublesome and into tragic territory.
Law enforcement leaders lament the problem, as five deaths in recent weeks and more than five years of accident statistics etch the stark story into their minds.
“This is the most dangerous highway in the state,” said Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong. He feared it was so, but awaited statistical evidence before asserting it openly.
Statistics compiled by the Nevada Department of Transportation covered all deaths but a triple-fatality wreck July 10, which occurred as the numbers were being crunched. The latest wrecks jolted Furlong and various community leaders into heightened angst and action; the statistics added to their sense of purpose.
The NDOT stats covered Jan. 1, 2008, through June 15, 2013, plus the June 23 head-on collision that claimed the lives of Sierra Grace Woodward of Carson City and a Texan identified as Mark Flora. That crash happened on the highway at Centennial Drive in east Carson City.
The July crash that wasn’t included the stats, which occurred near Dayton, claimed the lives of Ellis Lee and Louise Erwin of Dayton and Michelle Marie Stratton of Dayton Valley.
“This has got to stop,” said Furlong, voicing concern not only for capital city residents but neighbors to the east. Highway-safety upgrades and changing driving habits were uppermost in his mind.
The sheriff mentioned alcohol- or drug-related causes as well as distracted driving — particularly because people are texting on the sly or using cellphones in other ways — but he also cited any activity that takes drivers’ minds off the road.
Furlong urged more vigilant enforcement, a media blitz and a related campaign to heighten awareness about dangers, safety changes to the roadway that could include rumble bumps alerting drivers straying over the center line or onto highway shoulders, and perhaps Jersey barriers — modular concrete or plastic barriers to get similar safety results.
The sheriff has been meeting with various leaders, among them law enforcement colleagues, to work on a permanent solution.
“I don’t want to do a short-term fix to a long-term problem,” said Furlong, adding that the preponderance of U.S. 50 accidents in or near his jurisdiction are happening during the day.
Meetings last week involved representatives of NDOT and the Office of Traffic Safety, the Nevada Highway Patrol, Carson City transportation and the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office.
“Recognizing the significance of our challenge,” Furlong said, “a plan has been drafted that includes the length of Highway 50 from Carson Street to Fallon, and extending north to Fernley.” That stretch north to Fernley is U.S. 95A.
Maj. Brian Sanchez of NHP Northern Command said both short-term and long-term plans were discussed.
“We’re going to be throwing plenty of resources at this problem,” he said.
Sanchez joined Furlong in calling for public education and other efforts to get the word out about the dangers in Lyon County and east Carson City.
“Absolutely there are things that can be done,” he said. Sanchez said law enforcement can “make adjustments to our enforcement patterns,” and he joined in Furlong’s concern about distracted driving. He also mentioned drowsy drivers, warning that people should take breaks periodically to avoid inattentiveness while at the wheel.
Furlong, meanwhile, also is being invited to the August meeting of the Regional Transportation Commission in Carson City to report on progress by the time that next session of the city’s transport planning and action panel meets.
City Supervisor John McKenna, who chairs the panel, asked Transportation Manager Patrick Pittinger to request Furlong’s attendance.
Lyon County Sheriff Allen Veil said enforcement efforts are being upgraded, as feasible, along the route west of Dayton. But he was mindful of budget constraints.
“Of course we’d like to get more enforcement out there,” Veil said in a phone interview from his office in Yerington. At the same time, he felt compelled to mention tight staffing patterns.
“We’re kind of in a rough position with our staffing issues,” he said, noting the large coverage area and just a dozen deputies to patrol it. “They’re stretched pretty much,” he said, adding that in any spare time they patrol the Mound House stretch of U.S. 50 at the Lyon County-Carson City line and on west to Dayton.
Veil also voiced hope the meetings under way will spark productive brainstorming.
“Hopefully, we’ll come up with some other ideas,” he said.