Caltrans public information officer Lynn Diehl said Wednesday that the Office of Traffic Safety had opened an investigation into the intersection of Highway 33 and Durham Ferry Road.
“Caltrans has never done an investigation of that intersection, since data hasn’t risen to a level that initiates a review,” Diehl said.
Two recent wrecks
The first incident on Highway 33, a tractor-trailer rollover on Jan. 15, left the truck driver trapped upside down after a car pulled out from Durham Ferry in front of him. The man wasn’t hurt, but it took CHP and emergency crews almost four hours to completely re-open Highway 33.
A crash at 3:20 p.m. Jan. 30 cost a Patterson man his life. California Highway Patrol Sgt. Robert Rickman said Abelardo Panduro Gayton, 56, was killed when his Honda Civic collided almost head-on with a Ford F-150 in the intersection. The F-150 was turning left from southbound Highway 33 onto Durham Ferry Road when it struck the Civic, which was heading north at about 55 mph.
Gayton was wearing a seat belt, Rickman said, but died from blunt force trauma.
The unidentified driver of the F-150, a man from Tracy, was uninjured in the crash. A boy in the front passenger seat had an abrasion on his shoulder.
Driven to action
New Jerusalem Elementary School District Superintendent David Thoming said the F-150 in the crash was driving to New Jerusalem School to drop the boy off for an after-school recreational basketball game.
On Monday, Thoming took action. Standing in the New Jerusalem parking lot with a clipboard, he convinced parents to sign a petition calling on area lawmakers to have a stoplight installed at the intersection, about 100 feet from the entrance to the school at 31400 S. Koster Road.
Thoming, who grew up in the area, said traffic problems had grown with the population at New Jerusalem and Delta Charter schools.
“The major growth has been our school,” Thoming said. “We have 1,000 people coming to and from our campus every day, buses leaving all the time — that’s a lot of traffic.”
Thoming said Highway 33 is also a major corridor, with more people than ever traveling to and from work.
“It’s only a matter of time before it’s one of our kids,” Thoming said.
Thoming asked the chairman of the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, Bob Elliott, who represents the Tracy area, and Assemblywoman Susan Eggman for their help making the roadway safer.
“A four-way stop is the absolute minimum. We’ve got to get those cars to stop,” Thoming said. “If cars are allowed to go through the intersection at full speed, you are going to continue to have fatalities.”
According to Eggman’s spokesman Christian Burkin, the assemblywoman requested the Caltrans investigation.
Elliott said he also asked the county public works department to look into the intersection.
Parents picking up their children Monday at New Jerusalem worried about the intersection’s safety.
John Mendoza has two children at New Jerusalem Elementary School and said he is wary of the crossroads.
“I’m always on guard. That is a pretty tough intersection, especially with the railroad, and then you got big-rigs that drive that a lot and people who misjudge making that left turn, so it is a pretty dangerous intersection,” Mendoza said. “We need a stop sign or a signal light that will make it a little more of a secure intersection.”
Randy Vollbrecht, who was picking up his son and daughter, thought the intersection was long overdue for traffic controls.
“I think they have needed a light here for 30 years, especially with the school here,” Vollbrecht said. “There are people flying down 33 so fast to turn here to come to the school.”
Many drivers are also unfamiliar with rural roads, Thoming said, and Durham Ferry Road’s angled approach to the highway can produce blind spots.
David Parton, who lives 500 feet down Highway 33 from Durham Ferry Road, said he had watched the traffic increase in his 33 years there.
“There’s more traffic on the road now than when I first moved here,” Parton said.
Parton said the postal service moved people’s mailboxes from the west side of Highway 33 to the east, because it had become too dangerous to cross the fast-moving highway traffic.
The California Highway Patrol’s Tracy-area commander, Lt. Jeff James, said Tuesday that even in light of the two recent crashes, the Durham Ferry Road-Highway 33 intersection is not one of the most dangerous rural roads the agency patrols.
CHP has records of 36 crashes and four deaths at the intersection — and along Highway 33 both directions nearby — since 1984, when it started keeping data.
There have been 12 crashes since January 2009, resulting in seven injuries and the death Jan. 30.
“There is nothing that makes that roadway stand out any more than many other roadways here,” James said. “There is nothing in the statistical information that stands out that this is a problem intersection.”
James said stoplights and stop signs are generally used to control the flow of traffic and right-of-way issues where there is significant congestion, and introducing a stop at the intersection could cause other problems.
“We could move from an area where speed and right-of-way violations are a problem to where traffic congestion and rear-end collisions are a problem,” he said.
James said he said he would make sure his officers knew that a major crash happened in the area and would aggressively enforce right-of-way and speed violations.
Warning to drivers
Thoming said he would be visiting Delta Charter High School classrooms to give young drivers advice about navigating the road safely. Newsletters sent to New Jerusalem Elementary School District families will discuss the intersection and the recent crashes.
“These last two will hopefully be a wake-up call enough to get the powers that be to do something about it,” the superintendent said. “Every time we hear the crunch, we hear the firefighters take off, we head down there with hearts in our throats, wondering, Who is it going to be? Is it going to be one of our students or one of our parents?”
• Contact Glenn Moore at 830-4252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.