Deaths Lead to Action

Deaths Lead to Action

August 21, 2002

On a half-mile stretch of Persimmon Tree Road, between Aug. 5 and Aug. 12, three people died in two separate car accidents.

Although residents along Persimmon Tree Road have petitioned for road improvements for more than a decade with little result, the tragedies of the month have galvanized their resolve.

“The issues we’ve had are twofold, one was traffic and driver danger, and the other one was pedestrian safety,” said Robin Warsaw, general manager of the Avenel Homeowners Association.

Warsaw and others have expressed their concerns about multiple dangers along Persimmon Tree Road.

With a committee made up of the Avenel Homeowners Association, plus the Carderock Springs, Persimmon Tree and Cabin John homeowners and civic organizations, Warsaw successfully petitioned to get a pedestrian pathway — the length of Persimmon Tree connecting to MacArthur Boulevard — included in the Potomac Master Plan.

NEXT MONDAY, Aug. 26, the safety committee, with members from all three homeowners associations, will meet at the corner of Saunders Lane and Persimmon Tree Road with County Council president Steve Silverman (D-at large), to discuss measures to make the road safer for drivers and pedestrians alike.

"It's tragic that it takes a fatality to get the attention that should be paid to some of the dangerous road conditions that exist. I hope something good can come out of this and we can act on it," said Silverman.

Silverman said he wanted "to hear from the community directly in order to get a sense of what they want to do.

"I take very seriously pedestrian safety, as we all do. I'm familiar with the general challenges and want to get a community perspective," said Silverman.

ON AUG. 12, SUMIL SHAH, 20, of Saunders Lane, and Nikesh Shah, 18, Sumil’s cousin visiting from Chicago, were killed when their car struck a tree and burst into flames on Persimmon Tree Road within a few yards of the entrance to Shah's home street, Saunders Lane.

On Monday, Aug. 5, Alan R. Howell, 42, a truck driver from Gaithersburg, was killed at the intersection of Persimmon Tree Road and Eggert Drive after an Oldsmobile Cutlass station wagon — traveling eastbound on Eggert Drive — collided with the driver's side of Howell's truck. Howell, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was pronounced dead at the scene after his truck rolled over and came to rest at a row of trees.

"In that case, the station wagon did not stop at a stop sign and the driver was traveling above the posted speed limit," said Lucille Baur, spokesperson for Montgomery County Police.

PAT LORE SAW the dangers crossing Persimmon Tree Road at Eggert Drive during the years her children attended Carderock Springs Elementary. She petitioned the state for a four-way stop sign at the intersection, but after a traffic count conducted by the state, the request was denied because there wasn't an equal number of cars coming from both directions.

Persimmon Tree Road became a county road in 1999.

Residents in Carderock Springs will renew their efforts in the wake of the fatal accident on Aug. 5, meeting with Silverman on Aug. 26, and collecting signatures on a petition at the first day of school at Carderock Springs Elementary, Tuesday, Aug. 27.

PENNY HELTZER of Saunders Lane remembers more than 10 years ago, when a Saunders Lane resident was killed in an accident on Persimmon Tree Road at the entrance to Saunders. Now grieving the loss of another neighbor, Heltzer says she wants to know what the county is going to do to make the road safer.

“We’re trying to understand why the sidewalk has not been put in and to understand what the Department of Transportation is willing to do,” said Heltzer, who will attend next Monday’s meeting.

WHILE SOME RESIDENTS would like to see police increase enforcement activity on the treacherous stretch of road, even police fear the dangers of Persimmon Tree Road at its narrowest.

“To monitor traffic on that road is tough,” said Derek Baliles, spokesman for Montgomery County Police. “The Captain of the First District is very concerned about what they can do.”

While police patrol and enforce the speed limit on Persimmon Tree, there is no safe place to stop the police car to check speeds, and very little safe place to pull anyone over, Baliles said.

Baliles said speed was a factor in the crash that killed Sumil Shah and his cousin; the way the car was wrapped around the tree at the driver's door indicated that, he said.

The medical examiners report said injuries from the initial impact killed the two young men.

“The community needs to pursue safety measures there,” Baliles said. “If the community wants it, is patient, collects petitions, it can be done.”

Speed bumps are a tradeoff, Baliles warned. While they slow traffic, they also slow police and fire response times.

Among the short and long term measures possible are speed bumps, education in the local high schools and posting an electronic sign that will display the speed cars are traveling.

A mobile sign displaying speeds will be placed on the road soon, Warsaw said, although it will be temporary.

Mary Kimm contributed to this story.