Sign at site of death a call to action

GOLD BAR — Thomas Turner had many interests. He played soccer and the guitar. He loved aviation and was thinking of becoming a pilot.

The Monroe High School senior’s dreams ended on Dec. 28, 2007.

Turner and some friends were returning home from a day of skiing on Stevens Pass. Their car crossed over the centerline on U.S. 2 near Gold Bar and was hit head-on.

Turner, 17, sitting in the front passenger seat, was killed instantly. The driver and another passenger in his car were seriously injured. Those in the oncoming car suffered minor injuries.

Investigators said neither speed nor alcohol played a role in the crash.

Turner’s family doesn’t want to see anyone else lost, or any more families put through the same anguish. They contacted the state about installing a sign in Thomas’ memory near the accident scene, reminding U.S. 2 drivers to be careful.

The sign was installed Wednesday on the south side of U.S. 2 about two miles east of Gold Bar. The post bears a sign facing each direction of the highway.

“Please drive safely,” it reads in large letters. “In memory of Thomas C. Turner.”

The cost was $750.

“We wrote the check,” said Tom Cock Jr., Thomas’s father. “It was worth every penny.”

Turner’s stepmom, Dawnelle Dutcher, did most of the lobbying to get the sign put up, he said. About 20 family members and friends came out to see it on Wednesday.

The sign’s warning is aimed at drivers and elected officials alike.

“We want people to realize the margin of error here is so tiny,” he said. “And it’s for the political leaders who need to realize how this is an awful, horrible, unsafe road that needs to be fixed.”

Since 1999, at least 60 people have died in crashes along U.S. 2 between Everett and Stevens Pass, state records show. In the past decade, 36 separate accidents have claimed 38 of those lives. In 2005 alone, seven fatal accidents took place in that 65-mile stretch, said Travis Phelps, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

One month before Turner’s death, the state issued a long-term plan for improvements on the highway. It includes a number of smaller, interim measures along with a recommendation to ultimately widen and divide the highway along the stretch that runs from Snohomish to Gold Bar. The total price tag: more than $1 billion.

The state has spent $128 million in the past decade on some of those smaller measures, including rumble strips and turn lanes, Phelps said. A $5 million roundabout was recently added at U.S. 2 and Rice Road near Sultan. A $20 million overpass now being built on Bickford Avenue over U.S. 2 in Snohomish is expected to make that intersection safer.

Cock said it’s not enough. Only dividing the highway will help, he said, noting that doing so accounts for most of the projected $1 billion needed to fix the highway.

He said other projects, such as a $464 million plan to add lanes to I-405 between Bellevue and Lynnwood, help move commuters but don’t do as much for safety as would the same amount spent on U.S. 2.

“It’s a roadway that was last improved when John Kennedy was in the White House,” he said.

Phelps said comparing U.S. 2 with major freeways is not comparing apples to apples.

“They’re completely different types of highways, they carry different types of traffic, the geography for each of them is different,” he said.

He said the measures taken on U.S. 2 so far were designed to achieve the most safety with the available funding.

“It’s trying to fix the worst first, trying to keep people safe and keep traffic moving,” he said.

Cock said that while the shock of losing his son has faded, the pain has not.

The family has coped in part by establishing a scholarship fund in Turner’s name at Monroe High that’s raised $20,000 in five years, he said.

While he appreciates the interim measures taken to improve the highway, “I won’t be really happy until it is a divided road,” he said. “I hope it’s in my lifetime.”

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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