September 30, 2014

Elyria
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No sign, no warning: Toppled stop sign leads to gruesome crash

Local pool company owner killed instantly

GRAFTON TWP. — Authorities believe a missing stop sign is to blame for a local businessman being killed when he drove through an intersection and into the path of a tractor-trailer Monday afternoon.
Charles Yonkings, 70, of Haven Drive, Elyria, died upon impact with the tractor-trailer of massive internal chest injuries, County Coroner Paul Matus said.
Yonkings owned Deca Pools Inc. and was heading to Valley City to talk to a family that wanted a pool, members of his grief-stricken family said Monday night.
Lt. Glenn Peterson, commander of the Elyria post of the Highway Patrol, said Yonkings died when he drove his GMC pickup through the intersection of Law Road and state Route 57 — likely without knowing he was crossing a route where traffic was moving at more than 55 mph.
The accident happened just before 4 p.m., and Yonkings’ pickup was crushed beneath the rear wheels of the tractor-trailer and dragged nearly 200 feet down the road.
Glass and debris littered the roadway the entire way starting with the pickup truck’s front grill and tire near the intersection.
In a ditch near the intersection, the stop sign that was supposed to be posted to stop traffic on Law Road was found. It was the same sign that township road crews had sought after it was reported an hour or so before the crash that a sign was missing — but the report inadvertently cited another intersection.
The report from a resident sent the crew to Law and Chamberlain roads, several miles west of the where the accident occurred, said Michael T. Podulka, a Grafton Township trustee.
The crew was told to head back to the township garage after it found that the signs were all in place there, he said.
“Only if we had been notified sooner, we could have gotten there sooner,” Podulka said. “That is not something any township trustee would sit on. Those roads are dangerous.
“People who live in the township know there is supposed to be a stop sign there, but for people passing through, without the sign, things can get dangerous.”
Family members said Yonkings knew little about the roads in the southern portion of the county. As such, David Yonkings said he knew even before a state trooper showed up at his door that something was wrong.
“My father loved the business too much to miss a pool appointment, so when I got a call that he didn’t show up, I knew something was wrong,” he said.
Yonkings said radio reports of an accident in the area only added to his concern. He tried calling OnStar, the monitoring system in his father’s vehicle, but was told only that his father’s airbag had not deployed.
His next phone call was to Highway Patrol, where a dispatcher refused to tell him anything on the phone. Within an hour, however, a trooper was at the family’s Haven Drive home.
It is the same place where family and friends gathered late Monday night to remember a man whom they described as being “just extraordinary.”
“He was a man of integrity, a man of his word,” Yonkings said of his father. “He always wanted to do the right thing.”
Yonkings started Deca Pools in 1980 with his family. Prior to that, he worked at the Ford Motor Co.’s Lorain Assembly Plant, where he was a foreman in the cushion department. However, the avid hunter and fisher who like to summer in the Florida Keys did not like the confinement of factory work.
“He ran his business with the motto: ‘Don’t leave the backyard until the customer was happy.’ That’s how the business survived,” Yonkings said. “That’s the only way he said he would sell his pools.”
Highway Patrol Sgt. Paul March said the patrol will try to find the person responsible for knocking down the sign. It is not known, however, if that person could be held liable for the accident.
“We’re thinking it was some sort of farm equipment that hit the sign and left. Still, it will be hard to determine if they even know they knocked it down,” March said.
He said tire markings high on the post and paint scrapings on the sign indicate it may have been hit by farm equipment turning south onto route 57 from Law Road.
Podulka said the township’s road crew checks traffic, street and bridge signs throughout the township each week. It is not unusual to find at least one missing or damaged sign, he said.
When that occurs, it is immediately fixed, Podulka said.
“Street signs come down from time to time, but I always see them back up in a day or two,” said Law Road resident Jackie Vasel. “I guess I never paid too much attention as to how long it takes because I know to slow down because up here on 57, people fly down that road. Living over here you learn real quick where to look.”
Yonkings and wife Delores recently celebrated 52 years of marriage. He had four children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He was a member of Christ Lutheran Church in Lorain.
Funeral arrangements have not been finalized.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chronicle.com.

070307crash.jpgJason Miller / Chronicle photos
The driver of this GMC pickup died after he collided with a tractor-trailer at the intersection of Law Road and state Route 57 after the pickup failed to stop.