Most of the teenagers in the neighborhood knew that Miller Heights Road was a dangerous stretch in their neighborhood, and long-term residents Scott Gollobin, Ian Plecity and Carlos Quintela were no exception. They noticed that the lack of public street lights, the meandering curves and steep hills added up to an increased potential for accidents.
But it wasn’t until their friend and fellow neighborhood teenager Chris Kearns was killed in an accident one evening last October on the main thoroughfare of their Oakton neighborhood that the three teenaged boys knew something had to be done immediately. The collision occurred when the underaged intoxicated driver smashed into a parked car along Miller Heights Road killing Kearns, the passenger.
"People have always gone fast on the road, since as long as I can remember," said Gollobin, 17, a Flint Hill School student entering his senior year. "Where [the fatal accident] happened, on that curve, it’s always been dark."
When Gollobin, Plecity, 17 and Quintela, 17, got together to share how they felt about the accident, they realized that they wanted to do something to honor the memory of their peer that would improve traffic safety in their neighborhood.
"We realized that we could not do anything for Chris now," said Plecity, entering his senior year at Oakton High School. "But maybe if we could stop things like this happening in the future, it would be a good step that we could take."
Their subsequent efforts to install red reflectors on all of the mailboxes along Miller Heights Road to delineate its boundaries attracted the attention of local government officials. The county Board of Supervisors, working on a motion filed by Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence) moved to honor the youths at a public hearing on July 23.
WITHIN TWO MONTHS of the accident, the teens drafted a plan to install the reflectors as a way to delineate the road’s boundaries at night.
Speaking to the Miller Heights Neighbors Association, the three teenagers outlined the plan and worked to implement it, first by visiting every one of the dozens of homes along Miller Heights Road to get permission to place the reflectors on each side of the mailboxes.
In nearly all cases, the boys were met with positive responses.
"A lot of people wanted to see something happen for awhile to deal with the traffic," said Gollobin. "But this was a wake-up call … we definitely saw a lot of people in favor of it."
The three spent two weekends soliciting their neighbors before going on with the installation that would serve as "a constant reminder of where the road is bending," according to their proposal.
The reflectors, which cost approximately $200, were placed on 92 places — 78 mailboxes and 14 sign posts — along the mile and a half long stretch of Miller Heights Road. They were purchased with the help of a partnership between the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Miller Heights Neighbors Association.
THE REFLECTORS weren’t the only traffic calming devices to come to the neighborhood in the wake of the fatal accident on Miller Heights Road. The county moved quickly to install three "speed humps" and a stop sign to slow down would-be speeders, according to Miller Heights Neighborhood Association president Leslie Lilly.
Still, the reflectors were a good example of a community-born effort that served to improve safety for some drivers on the road at night, according to Lilly.
"Whenever something tragic happens there should be an effort to channel it into something productive and I think that is what happened here," she said. "I think these teens have felt like they have made a contribution and I hope that in the future that they will continue to do that."
The young residents’ desire to find a way to make a positive impact on the community by working to halt further potential tragic consequences has been inspirational for Linnea Nelson, a Miller Heights Road resident whose dark mailbox is adorned with two of the reflectors.
"I just really commend them for thinking about how you can take a problem and work together to make a difference," Nelson said. "It kind of makes you think how grass roots efforts really work to bring the community together for a common goal."