June 29, 2016

Partly cloudy

Petition signed by hundreds says fix the railroad tracks

COLUMBIA STATION — In the midst of the flowers, signs, balloons and stuffed animals is a note nailed to a tree.

The note points to a legal pad, wedged in the hollow of the tree. On the legal pad are hundreds of names in support of one objective: Fix the railroad tracks.

A few hundred people have already signed a petition to do something to fix the road where four teenagers died after crossing a railroad on Boston Road in Columbia Township and crashing their vehicle early Sunday morning. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY JENNIFER PIGNOLET)

The site marks the spot where a car full of Brunswick High School teenagers crashed Sunday morning on Boston Road. Jeffrey Chaya and Kevin Fox, both 18, and juniors Blake Bartchak, 17, and Lexi Poerner, 16, were killed as a result of the crash. Junior Julia Romito, 17, is recovering at Southwest General Health Center.

Columbia Township trustees are evaluating what they can do to make sure a tragedy never happens there again.

According to the Elyria post of the Ohio Highway Patrol, the car, driven by senior Chaya, went airborne after crossing the tracks going west. Chaya lost control of the car, which went off the road to the right and then left, striking a tree and overturning.

Patrol Lt. Travis Hughes said the final report on the accident may not be completed for another week and, in the meantime, extra patrols have been added to the area where the railroad tracks intersect Boston Road.

In the past three years, five crashes have occurred in that general area of Boston Road, and none of them have been fatal, Hughes said.

Neighbors in the area said there are at least two crashes near the tracks every year. Until now, however, the area wasn’t on anyone’s radar as a problem spot.

“Each month we look at where our crashes are occurring and we try to get ahead of any problematic trends,” Hughes said. “This has not been one of those roads or intersections that we have identified.”
After this weekend, though, “it will be given quite a bit of attention in the future,” he said.

Mike Musto said he has been a Columbia Township trustee for 2½ years, and the slew of complaints he has received about the intersection since the accident have been the first he’s heard about any problem.

With the tracks at the top of an incline, cars have bottomed out on the roadway on each side of the tracks, creating divots in the pavement.

Musto said there used to be stop signs on or near the hill, but when the train tracks and crossing gates were installed, the signs were removed.

As soon as possible, Musto said, stop signs will be reinstalled in the area.

“The trustees are taking a stand on it and we are committed to doing something to make this the last traffic accident on those train tracks,” he said.

A petition to fix the railroad tracks on Boston Road in Columbia Station sitys in the hollow of a tree next to the site of the fatal one-vehicle crash.

Other possibilities being discussed, he said, include rumble strips, more signs, speed cameras and creating an overpass or underpass.

There is also a push to lower the speed limit, which although is not posted, is 55 mph, Hughes said.

The closest speed limit sign to the intersection when westbound on Boston Road reads 35 mph, but that sign is east of Marks Road and is in Strongsville’s jurisdiction.

A railroad crossing sign greets drivers on both sides of the tracks, but there is no posted suggestion to reduce speed.

Hughes said it is not yet known how fast Chaya’s Chevrolet Cavalier was traveling when it crossed over the tracks because the investigation into the crash is ongoing.

The speedometer on the car dashboard froze at around 65 mph following the accident, but Hughes said that is not a definitive answer because the gauge could have been damaged in the crash.

Family members of the crash victims also have expressed concerns about the area and the desire to see a solution.

Brent Bartchak, 19, Blake Bartchak’s brother, said he planned to encourage state and local officials to lower the speed limit at the crossing.

“I don’t want to see this happen to another person,” he said.

Reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer contributed to this report.

Contact Jennifer Pignolet at (330) 721-4063 or jpignolet@medina-gazette.com.