How many head-on accidents will have to happen on Highway 395 south of Gardnerville before someone takes a good look at that 25-mile stretch of highway from the Pinenut Road intersection on the outskirts of Gardnerville to the Holbrook Junction of Highway 208? The roadside tells the story about just how dangerous that section of highway is. A count of wooden crosses should give a clue to the daily traveler. Granted, since 2005, just three of all the accidents were head-ons, but all three were catastrophic. And three, in three years, is three too many.
August 7, 2005, 36-year-old Gardnerville resident Norman Sharkey was headed south to find a place to go shooting. His vehicle crossed into the oncoming lane just north of Pine View Estates, hitting a Swift tractor-trailer rig driven by Gabriel Ortega with his father Eugene Leroy Sandoval of Henderson, Colo. The vehicles were consumed in flame which exploded the ammunition in Sharkey's vehicle making rescue attempts impossible and shutting down Highway 395 for almost 12 hours. I was no more than 15 minutes ahead of that accident, having just left a Comstock Cowboy charity event at the Corley Ranch.
On July 14, 2007, the Calevro family was heading toward Gardnerville on Highway 395 when, just a little north of Spring Valley Road, southbound Dawn Katherine Miley veered off the road to her right and then overcorrected, hitting the family of four head-on. The entire Calevro family was killed in the accident.
Feb. 13, 2008, Jeannie Hawkins was traveling north on Highway 395 with her brother, Thomas Overly, and six dogs when she swerved to miss an object in the road just south of Courtland Lane near Bodie Flat. She went across her lane, head-on into the vehicle of Maricela Madrigal Delopez, a Topaz Ranch Estates resident. Overly and four of the six dogs died in the collision.
Last Friday, Feb. 15, my mother and I almost became another head-on statistic on Highway 395.
We were heading north to Minden after Mom's day of pampering at Reflections in TRE and a visit to her Topaz Lake home. I had just passed Spring Valley Road and was in the wide sweeping curve before Double Springs Flat and the long straight stretch to Leviathan Mine Road. There is a double yellow line on that curve, for obvious reasons, and yet some over-anxious motorist chose to ignore it. I remember seeing a line of cars coming at me in the southbound lane and then a vehicle trying to pass three of the front runners, heading straight for me in my lane. None of the southbound cars moved to the right to allow room and the passing car kept coming at me.
My first reaction was of disbelief. In what seemed like an eternity, and yet I know it was seconds, I had to swerve to the right, over the rumble strip and off on the soft shoulder of the road to avoid the oncoming vehicle, nearly taking out a paddle marker in the process. All within yards of the crosses that now mark the deaths of the Calevro family. Badly shaken from the experience, Mom and I continued on to Minden, as I viewed every southbound car passing me as a potential threat.
All of us who have made that commute on a daily basis from south county, Mono County or the Smith Valley, have thought to ourselves that it's just a matter of time when one of us could be a statistic on that stretch of highway. I have lost count of the times another vehicle has passed me under less than safe conditions only to have that same vehicle just one or two car lengths ahead of me at the stoplights. Amazing.
We have made huge strides in the safety of the Carson Valley corridor of Highway 395 after several deaths, most notable, those of Nicole Snyder and Bridget Chambers. Through the inexhaustible efforts of their family and friends, a stoplight for Bridget was installed at Stephanie Way and there is now a wire barrier dividing the north and southbound lanes in an attempt to stop traffic from crossing over the median into oncoming traffic. Is it going to take another death of precious youth before Highway 395 south of Gardnerville gets the same attention?
A sad fact still remains. We can put up all the safety precautions in the world and yet nothing but our own good common sense will protect us from the hurried and over-confident driver that feels the need to reach their destination ahead of everyone else. Until something can be done about all of this, drive safe, drive defensively and attentively so we can all keep on keepin' on.
-- Jonni Hill can be reached at JHILL47@aol.com.