By KEVIN NEVERS
INDOT will conduct an investigation of the intersection of Ind. 49 and
Gateway Blvd., following the fatal accident there on Tuesday, when a motorist
southbound on Ind. 49 turned left against a red light and was broadsided by a
second vehicle northbound on Ind. 49.
The motorist’s passenger later died of injuries sustained in the crash.
Angie Fegaras, a spokesperson for the LaPorte District of the Indiana
Department of Transportation, announced the investigation on Wednesday
afternoon, two hours after the Chesterton Tribune informed her of the fatal
The intersection of Ind. 49 and Gateway Blvd. has long been regarded by area
police officers as a hazardous one due to the placement of the southbound
left-turn signal. That turn signal actually hangs over the northbound
left-turn lanes east of the median, widely separated from the two southbound
through signals and the right-turn signal, which all hang over their
respective lanes west of the median. Thus a motorist southbound on Ind. 49
and approaching the intersection of Gateway Blvd. could potentially confuse
the leftmost through signal for the left-turn signal, see that the leftmost
through signal is green, and mistakenly believe that he has a green light to
turn left onto eastbound Gateway Blvd.
Fegaras did not say when the investigation would be conducted. When asked by
the Tribune whether INDOT would consider splitting the signals at the
intersection–that is, delaying them, so that all southbound traffic could
proceed while northbound traffic is held and then the reverse–Fegaras said
that a discussion of possible options would have to await completion of the
Fegaras noted, however, that INDOT tends to receive complaints about split
signals because they slow the flow of traffic through intersections.
Nevertheless, in July INDOT did split the signals at the intersection of U.S.
Highway 20 and Waverly Road in Porter in response to accidents there, so that
eastbound and westbound traffic on U.S. 20 each has a separate green light
now, allowing motorists to make left turns onto Waverly Road without having
to negotiate oncoming traffic.
On Wednesday Chesterton Police Chief George Nelson said that split signals at
the intersection of Ind. 49 and Gateway Blvd. would help to reduce accidents
there by “eliminating the human factor.”
Between Sept. 31, 2006, and Oct. 1, 2007, Nelson added, a total of 16 crashes
with nine injuries has been investigated at the intersection of Ind. 49 and
Gateway Blvd. by three different agencies: the CPD, the Porter County
Sheriff’s Police, and the Indiana State Police. Nelson was unable immediately
to say how many of those accidents involved a southbound motorist’s turning
left against a red light.
Both Nelson and Lt. Dave Lohse of the CPD told the Tribune on Wednesday that
they have in the past expressed their concerns to INDOT about the signal
configuration at the intersection.
Tuesday’s accident occurred around 10 a.m., when Nancy Samuelson, 48, of
Portage, attempted to turn left, against a red light, from southbound Ind. 49
onto eastbound Gateway Blvd., the CPD said. A SUV northbound on Ind. 49
entered the intersection on a green light and slammed into the passenger’s
side of Samuelson’s car, where Virginia Wehner, 76, also of Portage, was
riding. The Chesterton and Liberty Township Volunteer fire departments
responded to the scene and Wehner was extricated from the front seat but she
later died of her injuries at Porter Valparaiso Hospital Campus.