April 24, 2014

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Fatal crash site to be smoothed in June

COLUMBIA STATION — The railroad crossing on Boston Road where four Brunswick teenagers were killed three months ago will be fixed beginning in early June, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.

The $450,000 project includes slightly raising the road to the east and west of the tracks.

In addition, ditches along the road will be improved to reduce depth. The approximate length of the project will encompass a quarter-mile of Boston Road.

The news thrilled Regina Garcowski, a nearby resident who said she’s seen numerous accidents at the tracks over four decades.

“I’m glad they’re doing something,” she said. “I can’t tell you the number of people who wrecked their cars going over the tracks.”

“If you do over 35 mph, you’re up in the air,” Garcowski said of the crossing on the border of Medina and Lorain counties.

Garcowski said her 18-year-old grandson, Steven Santell, also lives nearby and ran out to help on June 3, when the four teens were fatally injured.

She said her grandson found backseat passenger Kevin Fox, 18, who was ejected, in a ditch crying, “Help me! Help me!”
Fox later died of his injuries.

The Ohio Highway Patrol estimated that the 2001 Chevrolet Cavalier driven by Jeffrey Chaya, 18, was going 69 mph before it crashed shortly after midnight June 3.

The vehicle went off the right side of the road, then Chaya overcorrected and went off the left side of the road before his car struck a ditch and a tree, then overturned back on the road, resting upside down.

Chaya, front-seat passenger Blake Bartchak, 17, and backseat passenger Lexi Poerner, 16, died.

Julia Romito, 17, another back-seat passenger, survived, but reportedly has no memory of the crash.

Columbia Township Trustee Michael Musto said ODOT was successful in obtaining federal safety funds to pay for 90 percent of the project.

“We worked very closely with them,” Musto said of ODOT. “It’s been a team effort all around.”

In addition to the federal money, the other 10 percent of the cost will be covered by Columbia and Liverpool townships, as well as the Lorain and Medina County engineers.

The project will be completed through a process known in the industry as “design-build,” according to ODOT. The process combines the design, right-of-way acquisition and construction phases into one contract, allowing the design/acquisition firm and construction contractor to work simultaneously on the design and construction phases of the project. That reduces the amount of time and cost that would occur in a traditional, design-bid-build project.

Normally, a project of that scale would typically take a minimum of three years, according to District 3 Deputy Director Allen Biehl.

“To have this project see construction within one year of the beginning of this collaboration, given the many public agencies involved, is unprecedented,” Biehl said. He said the “cooperative effort has been tremendous.”

After the accident, the intersection was equipped with flashing LED stop signs at the base of the incline, gates that come down when a train approaches and warning signs of a rough crossing with a recommended speed when crossing the tracks of 25 mph.

The LED stop signs that have been placed at either side of the railroad tracks will be removed when the project is complete. The Boston Road speed limit will be permanently reduced to 45 miles per hour within the next 60 days from 55 mph, according to District 3 representative Christine Myers.

The patrol’s crash report detailed damage to the road caused by several cars gouging the pavement as they go over the hill to try to go airborne.

Even after the June 3 crash that killed the four teens, neighbors still report problems, according to Musto, the Columbia Township trustee.

“The neighbors tell us they’re still jumping the track, even with the flashing stop signs,” Musto said.

ODOT said the plan to fix the crossing was an effort among seven entities: Liverpool and Columbia townships, Medina and Lorain counties, ODOT, railroad corporation CSX and a gas company that has a line under that section of the road.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.