NEW PALESTINE — Patty Glover was working in her garden in the backyard the first time she heard it — the unmistakable crunch of two cars colliding.
That was some 17 years ago, when she’d just moved to the home on the southwest corner of Gem Road and County Road 300S. But it was a sound that became all too familiar over the years and made her cringe every time.
While her family has filled the large brick house with memories, their front yard has collected a few stories of its own: too many times, the lush green grass there has been littered with the debris of a car accident.
After a fatal car accident at the site last month, Hancock County officials are heeding public outcry to make the intersection safer. They have ordered larger stop signs to install in place of the standard-sized signs that are there now.
Glover estimated that a crash occurs once every other month at the intersection in front of her home.
Glover still remembers that first accident. She came to the front of the house to discover a pickup truck flipped upside down. She remembers it vividly because one of the passengers was 9 months pregnant, she said. Everyone walked away relatively unharmed.
But that’s not always the case. Last month, Greenfield-Central High School sophomore Andrew Hall was killed in a crash at the intersection. He was riding in a car that went through one of the stop signs on County Road 300S and collided with a minivan.
Hall’s death reignited conversation about the problem intersection, where county officials have intervened in the past — trimming back trees to increase visibility, for example.
This month, they’ll go a step further: new 36-inch stop signs will be installed at the intersection, Hancock County highway engineer Gary Pool said.
Currently, east and westbound traffic on County Road 300S is halted by two 30-inch stop signs. Traffic heading north and south on Gem Road does not stop.
The intersection will remain a two-way stop, but bigger stop signs will now appear on both sides of County Road 300S, with two signs facing east and two signs facing west, Pool said. Reflective strips will also will placed around the edges of the 36-inch stop signs.
Pool said he hopes these additions will better catch drivers’ eyes and prevent accidents.
Though crashes at the intersection are typically handled by the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, it’s not unusual for the New Palestine Police Department to assist.
Department Chief Bob Ehle said his officers work to ensure drivers are obeying speed limits in that area, which change as motorists near downtown New Palestine.
The changes to the intersection have Ehle’s support.
“Anything we can do to make an area safer, I’m for it,” he said.
Hancock County Commissioner Tom Stevens said the intersection has been on the county’s watch list for some time.
The best fix for a problem intersection is often determined by what seems to be causing the repeated accidents, Stevens said.
For example, the county removed several trees from Glover’s yard along County Road 300S last year because public safety officials believed they were hindering drivers’ views. Since then, the number of accidents has decreased.
But pinning down the problem isn’t always so obvious; often, several factors play a role in the seriousness of an accident and its cause.
In this most recently fatality, the car in which Hall was a backseat passenger went through a stop sign while traveling west on County Road 300S, according to law enforcement. The vehicle was struck by a minivan heading south on Gem Road.
In these situations, county officials look to federal standards to decide what safety precautions need to be taken. They are hoping these additional larger signs will make a difference.
“You never really know when you’ve done enough because no system is foolproof, ” Stevens said.
Glover admits she’s skeptical about whether or not the new stop signs will help. Until the accidents decrease significantly, she’ll likely remain as cautious there as she is now: Her family will spend free time in the backyard rather than the front, and her 15-year-old daughter won’t be allowed to mow the grass closest to the roadway.
“If people think they know the intersection well enough, they’ll probably still try to beat the cars (traveling north and south),” she said. “I guess we’ll just have to see.”