S.R. 111 claims another life
Despite countless dollars in surface improvements in recent years, S.R. 111 in Floyd and Harrison counties ‘ which is the main road to and from Horseshoe Southern Indiana casino and hotel ‘ has become notorious for being the ultimate gamble for drivers.
A crash Thursday that killed a female motorcyclist from New Albany is the latest in a long string of collisions along S.R. 111 between Doolittle Hill in Harrison County and Corydon Pike in Floyd County.
According to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, which tracks traffic crashes in the state, between 2003 ‘ when the ICJI started tracking crashes electronically ‘ and 2009, there were 266 crashes between the sample area of the 2000 block of S.R. 111 in Harrison County and the 1400 block of S.R. 111 in Floyd County.
According to the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department, there have been three additional property-damage crashes through the end of 2009. From Jan. 1 to April 19 of this year, there have been three property-damage crashes, three injury crashes and the fatal crash last week.
In the latest wreck, a preliminary investigation shows that a car driven by Jeremy D. Carroll of Elizabeth was southbound on S.R. 111 when he crossed the center line. Police said Carroll’s car struck two northbound vehicles before colliding with Nicholle Cain, 32, who was on a motorcycle.
‘We haven’t closed the investigation as of yet, but (the car) was severely left of center when the accident occurred,’ Floyd County Sheriff Darrell Mills said.
Prior to the most recent fatality, the last fatal crash on S.R. 111 took place in November when two central Indiana men died after crossing the center line, hitting an oncoming vehicle and then striking a tree.
According to ICJI statistics, more than one in three crashes on S.R. 111 result in an injury, while one in every 44 crashes results in a fatality. Included in those numbers are a total of 28 collisions involving alcohol; 20 of those were injury crashes and two were fatal.
The numbers are sobering about a roadway that’s traveled frequently by so many people each day, no matter the weather or time of year. The route in the sample area is virtually void of distractions, lined on one side by industrial areas, farmland and several waterfront homes adjacent to the Ohio River, and, on the other side, by mostly farmland. Improvements in the past several years upgraded the two-lane surface along the mostly straight roadway, which also has a few gentle, sweeping curves leading to and just past Horseshoe Casino.
But, therein lies part of the problem, Mills believes.
‘My take is that it’s so smooth and straight that it’s deceiving to people. In the accidents I’ve been involved in, it’s not the locals who seem to have trouble with that road,’ Mills said. ‘Drivers get into a line of traffic and, if you have one person going under the speed limit, the person behind will go to pass one or two cars and they’ll misjudge the distance to an oncoming car. Exceeding the speed limit is a lot of it, but I’ve seen people pass up to four cars when I was in my personal car.’
Sgt. Jerry Goodin, a public information officer for the Indiana State Police, said S.R. 111 in Floyd County has been determined to be a crash reduction zone, meaning the ISP is spending extra hours patrolling the road to help prevent crashes.
‘The state police has definitely seen the need to do extra patrol on S.R. 111 in Floyd County, not only to slow down speeders but to also reduce the number of drunk drivers, drivers following too closely and other offenders that cause crashes and the loss of life,’ Goodin said.
Capt. Steve Priest of the Indiana State Police knows all too well the dangers of S.R. 111.
On what he described as a nice fall afternoon, Oct. 10, 1982, two years after joining the ISP, Priest was standing alongside S.R. 111 writing a warning for a motorcyclist at a safety checkpoint just west of where Horseshoe is located. ‘A guy in a car wasn’t paying attention and saw he was about ready to rear-end a car, so he got on his brakes and cut the wheel and skidded right into us,’ Priest said. ‘I remember putting out my left hand and jumping, with my head hitting the windshield. I wound up about 40 feet from where I was standing.’
Priest, of Corydon, recalls that the road was dry, the sky was clear and sunny and the day was ‘absolutely beautiful’ up until he was hit by the car.
‘From what I remember, these crashes recently have been on bright, sunshiny days. I think people are doing everything but paying attention to the roadway, whether they are talking on a cell phone or texting or doing something else,’ Priest said. ‘The road itself is not that bad of a road. Now, with the boat being down there, and the population of Harrison County has increased, there’s more traffic on there than there was 25 years ago. It’s not a sleepy little highway along the river anymore.
‘I know when they redid the road before the boat came in, they made it a lot better. They made it smoother and made the sides of the road a little bit bigger. There’s no rhyme or reason for (the crashes). It’s not a bad road if people would just pay attention and do the speed limit,’ he said.
Mills said Floyd County receives some tax revenues from Horseshoe Casino, but not nearly as much as Harrison County (where the casino is located), and certainly not enough to fund a traffic division that could solely focus on S.R. 111 traffic to make the route safer.
While stopping short of calling the matter frustrating, Mills voiced some concern.
‘If we could get the funding to improve enforcement down there, we would do it,’ he said. ‘New Albany police and fire work that area; we’ve taken our SWAT team down there when it was needed. Relatively speaking, if there’s something that happens down there, Floyd County takes care of it. That’s my opinion of it.’
When it comes to driving S.R. 111, Mills said it appears the best time to go to Horseshoe is on a Friday or Saturday night, or when there’s a concert.
‘If you go then, it’s bumper to bumper and no one can go anywhere anyway. It’s when there’s light volume during the day that I think we see more accidents and drivers take more chances. They don’t understand,’ Mills said. ‘When they do that, they are gambling with their lives.’