"I've never seen anything like this," sheriff says of dangerous intersection
Drivers need to adjust to new changes on the Gray bypass after a Statham woman died Monday at the same intersection where two people were killed Thursday.
Just after 9 a.m. Monday, a 2015 Ford Escape headed south on the Eatonton Highway failed to stop at the intersection and was hit by a 1990 Chevrolet van headed west on the new stretch of highway that opened in December, Jones County Sheriff Butch Reece said at the scene.
“The people said it was the first time they’d been on the bypass and didn’t know to stop,” Reece said.
Under the initial road design, the bypass traffic kept going, but a temporary four-way stop will be in place until a permanent solution can be reached, Reece said.
Georgia Department of Transportation crews were putting up temporary signs and markings by Monday afternoon, just six hours after the latest accident on that stretch of the $42 million project.
Laura Pitsikoulis, 55, of Barrow County, was sleeping in the back seat of the SUV when her husband, Constantine Pitsikoulis, drove into the path of the van, Jones County Deputy Coroner Matt Jarratt said.
The van, driven by Oliver Round III of Gray, sustained heavy damage to the front as it broadsided the Pitsikoulis vehicle, Jones County sheriff’s fatality investigator Kenny Allen said.
Laura Pitsikoulis was ejected from the SUV and died at the scene, he said.
Ronald Tweed, another passenger in the Pitsikoulis vehicle, and Round were injured and taken to the Medical Center, Navicent Health, in Macon.
“It’s very unfortunate,” Jarratt said. “Her husband did not realize the intersection was a stop sign now.”
No charges were immediately filed in Monday’s accident.
“We’re not sure if any charges will be filed. It’s still under investigation,” Allen said.
Monday morning, rumble strips were on the pavement, orange flags were attached to the top of the stop signs, and signs on the post warned of the divided highway.
“Cross traffic does not stop” was written in bold on an orange backdrop.
After Thursday’s double fatality at the same intersection, the sheriff’s office put up two temporary stop signs anchored by weighted buckets to better mark the road, but it didn’t prevent the latest accident, Reece said.
He said he believes the stop sign on the southbound side of Eatonton Highway is too far to the right of the lane and can be overlooked, apparently as Pitsikoulis did.
“It’s confusing. People don’t know what to do,” Reece said.
While on the scene of last week’s fatal accident, Reece counted 11 near misses at the intersection in about an hour.
After Monday’s collision, people on the bypass slowed as if they were supposed to stop, and others did stop completely before turning onto Eatonton Highway.
No one ran the stop sign during that time, but a Jones County deputy kept vigil at the crossing.
The sheriff encouraged everyone to use caution at the juncture of the two highways and make sure no vehicles are coming when drivers pull out from the stop signs.
A frustrated Reece said he has been contacting the Department of Transportation and other state representatives about the dangerous crossing since the day it opened.
“It’s a major problem. In 40 years, I’ve never seen anything like this,” Reece said. “Undoubtedly it’s not marked well. I’m certainly not an engineer. ... People are either stopping where they shouldn’t or just pulling through and not seeing the stop signs.”
The sheriff said he kept deputies stationed around the clock at the crossing for the first three days it was open to alert drivers of the oncoming traffic.
Reece is hoping the DOT will eventually install a roundabout or a traffic light at the bypass, which diverts through traffic around Gray.