TOWN OF DARIEN
When Dale Wheelock drives through the intersection of Highway 11/14 and County C/M, he makes sure to give an extra look and pause for an extra second.
He said he goes to the Countryside Restaurant on the corner every morning.
“You know, you keep your head on a swivel,” he said.
Locals know they should be cautious around that intersection, which is on the border between Rock and Walworth counties, but two fatal crashes just over a year apart have given some residents in the area a renewed sense of urgency.
Most recently, Donald A. Mosser, 85, of Fontana, was killed when he did not stop at a stop sign April 16 and was hit by a vehicle driving on Highway 11/14, according to a Rock County Sheriff’s Office report.
Then there was Marc Hawkinson, 40, of Janesville, who died after Casandra A. Melvin went through a stop sign at 27 mph and collided with his van March 28, 2018. A Walworth County judge sentenced Melvin to 18 months in prison during a crowded and emotional hearing in June.
The Walworth County Traffic Safety Commission is scheduled to discuss the intersection at 9 a.m. Thursday, July 11, at the highway operations center, W4097 County NN, Elkhorn.
Dave Gerber, commission chair and captain at the sheriff’s office, said it’s more likely than not they will ask county public works officials and the state Department of Transportation to look at the intersection.
He also mentioned, however, that the two recent fatal crashes have both involved driver error.
State data on crashes at or near the intersection that involved some form of injury show six such crashes on the Walworth County side in the last five years. On the Rock County side, there have been three.
Wheelock forwarded to The Gazette email correspondence with sheriff’s office officials, including Gerber, after he reached out to Assembly Rep. Amy Loudenbeck about the subject.
Gerber in the email chain said they look at every fatal crash to find the cause, but the commission does not have authority to make changes itself.
He said more than 80% of all crashes “are a result of driver error.” The other causal factors are vehicle defects, roadway design and signage.
The commission tries to “influence driver behavior by educational programs and traffic enforcement,” he said in the email.
Charlene Staples represents that area on the Walworth County Board. She said she also used to be a volunteer emergency medical technician for Darien and responded to crashes at that intersection.
Although she is not on the commission, she asked the group to take a look at the topic. She said the intersection was “historically just a bad corner.”
When there have been crashes, where the vehicles end up can determine which jurisdiction is responsible.
In the Melvin case, her lawyer asked a judge to move the case to Rock County Court, but the judge denied the motion.
The recent crashes have brought more attention to the issue.
“Seems to me one death is too many,” Wheelock said. “And there’s been two.”
Wheelock said he was speaking on the matter as a resident and not as a member of the Darien Town Board.
If county and state officials decide the intersection is too dangerous for whatever reason, it is not immediately clear what could be done to make it safer.
Staples and Wheelock mentioned the large number of signs on one of the intersection’s corners, which could be obstructing drivers’ view.
Wheelock said he’s not an engineer, but some of what came to mind for him included rumble strips on the road leading to the stop sign or flashing lights on the signs—“anything to make people aware.”
Staples said making sure the right people are looking into this is part of her job.
“If I can help things become safer, that’s what I wanna do,” she said.