The Death Road
When there is a traffic hazard, it’s a common statement. “When somebody dies, they’ll fix it.” Someone has died. It’s time to fix it.
It’s time to put metal guardrails on both sides of Whelon Road in Laurens, where the road crosses a pond. A woman died there last month. While no amount of money can make that right, there is money right now in the discretion of the Laurens County Transportation Committee to fix this hazard.
LCTC would rather use its money - which derives from the state gas tax - to fix roads, some in the hardly ever traveled Sumter National Forest.
I understand that. That’s what they are tasked to do.
And I probably can just hear the arguments now. “That money is for roads - state money is for safety devices.”
Any idea how long it would take the State of South Carolina to decide to put a guardrail there? Any idea how long it would take for a contractor to get around to it? We’re talking years.
The threat, though, is now.
Kimberly Joen Abrahamsen, 49, of 206 Edisto Rd., Gray Court, died there. Traveling east, her pickup ran off the right side of Whelon Road, and was submerged in the pond. She was extracted 15 minutes after the initial call by SC Department of Natural Resources divers, but died about four hours later at Laurens County Memorial Hospital.
People who would argue against a guardrail at the Whelon Road pond could say, “It’s not a well-traveled road.” I travel that road when I’m going from my place on Pinehaven Extension onto Stagecoach Road, across Hwy 76 and on to Hwy 14 (at Laurens Electric Coop) and then I-385 to Greenville. I suspect that’s something of the route Abrahamsen was using - Hwy 14 runs through Gray Court, Whelon connects the highway to west Laurens and that route goes on to Hwy 221.
Whelon Road has the Jehovah’s Witness building on it. Whelon Road has a turn-off-here sign for a back route to Laurens District High School. A subdivision is on the banks of the pond on Whelon Road.
Laurens County has had more than its normal share of fatalities and injuries in the last few weeks. A firefighter was hurt when the wall of the building fell on him. The wall fell because the building was burned, authorities say on purpose and have arrested four men in connection with the fire. That was definitely a preventable accident - don’t set the building on fire, the wall doesn’t fall.
A Ware Shoals Dragway driver was killed when his dragster spun and flew apart - and into the crowd - at the drag strip. That driver, Anthony Craig Owen, of Easley, knew the hazardous sport he was engaged in - he should have had insurance to protect his family in case of his death, if he could get an insurance company to write it.
A spectator, Jason Kelly, of Piedmont, was seriously hurt by the flying debris. He knew the hazards of watching a drag race. The most disturbing image of the drag strip video is children standing mere feet from where the car blew apart. This could have been so much worse.
People are raising money on-line for both men’s families. The driver’s family was given the purse from the final race of July 30 at the Ware Shoals Dragway, and a benefit event is planned for Sept. 11 at the Union County Dragway.
People can give their money to whatever they want, but the driver knew the risk. The driver took the risk, without expectation of reward other than a winning prize. The spectators also take the risk - apparently - at the Ware Shoals Dragway.
People who drive on Whelon Road, down a hill and a few yards from well-traveled Hwy 76 just outside of Laurens, take another kind of risk. We all do - driving on South Carolina’s two-lane blacktops.
However, Whelon Road at the pond is a risk that can be mitigated by simple road-safety work. We see guardrails all over the place. It’s not uncommon to wonder, “Why it that there?” A bridge is not needed, simply something to keep cars on the road and shoulder.
Not to do it is criminal. Not to do it because it’s expensive is a cop out.
It does not need to wait. It does not need to go through state procurement. It does not need to wait for the state to collect more gas tax money.
If the owners of Ware Shoals Dragway don’t want to put up safety walls and debris-catching netting - like NASCAR and professional dragways do - that’s their concern. They’re a private business. Apparently unsupervised.
For the supposed benefit of all of us, though, the State of South Carolina collects gas tax revenue and distributes some of that back to the counties. Use some of it to make a road hazard disappear - or at least be a little less hazardous. When a loaded school bus goes off in the pond, you’re going to wish you had.
It will get fixed when someone dies. No, wait, someone already has.