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Wrecks highlight need for Texas 6 widening


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Wrecks highlight need for Texas 6 widening



Eagle Staff Writer

The undivided stretch of Texas 6 that claimed four lives last week was flagged for improvements several years ago, a state transportation official said Sunday.

The Texas Department of Transportation began construction this year on a $100.3 million project to widen about eight miles of roadway from F.M. 159 to the Navasota city limits, encompassing the area where three teens and a Deer Park man were killed in a multi-vehicle accident Friday.

The crash happened when a man driving a Mack truck south on Texas 6 stopped to make a left turn into a construction site, causing a chain-reaction collision involving three vehicles behind him. At least one of the vehicles in the pileup skidded into the northbound lane and collided with an oncoming car. A sixth vehicle, also going north, was able to avoid the fiery wreckage, but crashed into a ditch, according to Department of Public Safety officials.

Bruce Edward King II, 18, of College Station, Bryson Rashad Thompson, 18, of Bryan and Sarah Alexandra Nichols, 17, of Bryan were killed in the wreck, along with Augustin Zermeno Hernandez, 32, of Deer Park.

The driver of the Mack truck, William Grays of Hearne, declined comment Sunday, as did Phillip Murrell of Brenham, who was driving a pickup behind Grays and escaped the wreckage with minor injuries.

When the accident occurred, Grays was turning into a site operated by T.J. Lambrecht Construction, a contractor working on TxDOT's widening project. TxDOT spokesman Bob Colwell said Sunday that the project is ahead of schedule, with a completion date planned in 2011. By the time it's complete, the expansion project will have been talked about for almost a decade, Colwell said. The road eventually will be widened to a four-lane divided thoroughfare with frontage roads.

"We understand that we've had some problems out there," Colwell said. "We really believe once this portion is widened, it will be a lot better. We're very proud of the work the contractor is doing for us."

Until the work is complete, motorists should drive a little slower than the posted 70 mph speed limit along the highway, especially when planning to turn, Colwell said.

"One of the things they could do is signal far in advance and slow down," he said. "Everyone that drives that roadway needs to pay attention and get off the accelerator."

That stretch of highway has a history of deadly accidents.

The drivers of two 18-wheelers died in March at "the exact same spot" where the accident occurred Friday afternoon, South Brazos County Volunteer Fire Chief Emily Staples said.

The tanker trucks were traveling south near the F.M. 2154 intersection when one truck struck the other from behind. Both trucks caught fire, and drivers Clarence Lee Sweed of Washington and Garl W. Roberts of College Station died at the scene.

Visibility is one problem, public safety officials have said. When a driver is coming up over a hill, they may not be able stop in time to avoid rear-ending another vehicle.

Colwell said the state has made attempts to create a safer roadway.

"We have put up changeable message boards, added some turn lanes at different locations and we've got extra law enforcement out there," he said. "We will continue to look at it and see if there are any improvements we need to make.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to the families."

Staples said she doesn't blame the state for the accidents that have occurred in the area.

"I don't know what else TxDOT can do," Staples said Sunday evening. "They've put up those great, big signs that say 'watch for turning vehicles.' The inside lane is for passing only. That's a law. If people would stay in the outside lane, their chances of having an accident would go down by 70 percent."

Staples said she's not sure how to make people more aware of the danger of driving too fast on the narrow road.

"Most of the people involved in the accidents have traveled that road 100 times," she said. "Everyone knows how dangerous this road is, and until it's completed, it's going to be that way.

"That's why they're fixing it."

She said she hopes the recent publicity about the highway will inspire motorists to use more caution.

"It's been a really horrible weekend for a lot of people," Staples said. "It's taken a toll. I wish that everybody would understand there is not anything that important to get to that it costs a life."

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