With each new crash on State Route 260, local officials are reminding residents of the importance of safety and reassured that the situation will soon improve.
Accidents, particularly head-on collisions, are nothing new on the nine-mile section of SR 260 under construction by Arizona Department of Transportation.
One of the major reasons to turn the two-lane route into a modern four-lane divided highway is to improve safety, but construction also comes with a price: Work zones can be tricky to navigate, especially at night, meaning an increased risk to commuters and roadside crews.
Just after sunset on Nov. 12, Camp Verde Marshal’s Office responded to a report of a white Ford pickup truck driving erratically headed eastbound on SR 260 in the work zone.
The driver who reported the pickup’s behavior followed behind and reported the pickup weaving in its lane, crossing the center line, speeding up and slowing down.
“The pickup was spotted by a deputy on SR 260 near Cherry Road, where the pickup crossed the center line and almost struck the deputy’s patrol vehicle,” CVMO Chief Administrative Assistant Darby Martin said. “Before the deputy could turn around, the pickup truck crossed left of center and struck a 2001 Chrysler sedan driven by Devonna Steele head-on."
The Chrysler was also occupied by her 12-year-old son and 3-month-old infant. Steele had to be extricated from the vehicle by fire personnel and was flown to Flagstaff Medical Center with serious but non-life threatening injuries.
The two children were flown to Phoenix Children’s Hospital, with one being admitted to the ICU A third vehicle was involved in the accident. A
Dodge Grand Caravan occupied by a female and her four children, ranging in age from 2 to 7, was also struck. The driver and passengers were reported to have no injuries.
The location of the accident, near Cherry Road, has been the site of particularly heavy construction work recently, with Cherry Road access shut down for construction of a roundabout and a temporary stoplight installed just to the west of that intersection. According to Martin, the driver of the pickup, 64- year-old Gary Mark, was transported to a local hospital, treated and released into custody.
Mark was arrested and booked into Yavapai County Detention Center on charges of aggravated assault, endangerment, driving on a suspended license, aggravated DUI, criminal damage, possession or use of a dangerous drug and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Those driving under the influence are always a danger, of course, but according to James Bramble, a resident engineer with ADOT in charge of managing the SR 260 improvement project, it does not take intoxication to put others at risk: The everyday behavior of commuters is enough.
“People do not slow down, and it is flat scary to be on the side of that road,” Bramble said, adding that keeping 30,000 vehicles moving safely and efficiently through the work zone daily is the greatest challenge of the SR 260 improvement project.
Once completed, the four-lane route should substantially improve safety: According to a study by the multistate agency Highway Safety Information Systems, conversion from two-lane to four-lane divided sections “appears to result in a crash per kilometer reduction of between 40 percent to 60 percent.”