By KEVIN NEVERS
Porter County Commissioner
John Evans, R-North, representing the estate of his mother-in-law, killed in
an accident in October 2007 at the intersection of Ind. 49 and Gateway
Blvd., is suing the State of Indiana and the Town of Chesterton, claiming
that an improperly placed traffic signal caused that crash.
Evans and Belinda Petroskey,
co-administrators of the estate of Virginia Wehner, filed that lawsuit on
Tuesday in Porter Circuit/Superior Court. Petroskey is Wehner’s daughter.
According to Chesterton
Police, Wehner, 76, of Portage, was a front-seat passenger in a vehicle
driven by Nancy Samuelson, also of Portage. On the morning of Oct. 23,
police said, Samuelson was southbound on Ind. 49 when she attempted to turn
left onto eastbound Gateway Blvd. At that time, witnesses advised police,
Samuelson had a red left-turn light, turned against it, and was broadsided
on the passenger’s side by a pickup truck northbound on Ind. 49 and driven
by Jeffrey Everaert of Kouts. Police said that Everaert had a green light.
Wehner had to be extricated
from Samuelson’s Oldsmobile. She was transported to Porter Valparaiso
Hospital Campus but died there later of her injuries.
As the Chesterton Tribune
reported at the time, the Oct. 23 crash was not the first of its kind at
that intersection. On Sept. 9, 2007, three persons were injured under
exactly the same circumstances, when a motorist southbound on Ind. 49
attempted to turn left onto eastbound Gateway Blvd. against a red light and
was broadsided by another motorist northbound on Ind. 49.
The CPD officer who
investigated the Sept. 9 accident noted in his report that the configuration
of the traffic signals at the intersection could be confusing, as the
left-turn signal for motorists southbound on Ind. 49 was actually located
east of the median and over the left-turn lane of northbound Ind. 49. There
are three other signals for southbound traffic—one for each of the two
southbound through-lanes and one for the southbound right-turn lane—but they
are located directly above their respective lanes and west of the median.
Also at the time, Chesterton
Police Chief George Nelson told the Tribune that the CPD had
discussed with INDOT the light configuration at the intersection but that
INDOT had indicated no desire to alter it. Between Sept. 31, 2006, and Oct.
1, 2007, Nelson said, the CPD, the Porter County Sheriff’s Police, and the
Indiana State Police investigated a total of 16 accidents with nine injuries
at that intersection, although it was unclear how many of those accidents
involved a southbound motorist’s turning left against a red light.
On Oct. 24, two hours after
the Tribune advised the Indiana Department of
Transportation’s LaPorte District of the circumstances surrounding the fatal
crash at Ind. 49 and Gateway, the LaPorte District announced that it would
conduct an investigation of that intersection. INDOT never released the
findings of that investigation but within a month it had re-located the
left-turn signal for southbound motorists and placed it directly in front of
the left-turn lane.
Evans’ suit names four
defendants: the State of Indiana, INDOT, the Town of Chesterton, and the
Chesterton Street Department. That suit makes five specific claims:
•That the defendants “have
the responsibility to design, construct, install, and maintain the
intersection of Ind. 49 and Gateway Blvd. and its traffic control devices.”
•That they have the
responsibility of doing so such that the intersection “was reasonably safe
for use by persons exercising ordinary care.”
•That they “breached that
duty” in that the defendants “did not properly place the left-turn device
controlling southbound traffic on Ind. 49 attempting to turn left or east
onto Gateway Blvd.”
•That they “knew or should
have known of this dangerous condition for an extended period of time;
during that time there were multiple motor vehicle crashes proximately
caused by said defect.”
•That the crash “occurred as
a direct and proximate result of the failure of the defendants to properly
design, construct, install, and maintain said intersection.”
Evans and Petroskey are
seeking “such sum as will fairly, reasonably, and adequately compensate”
Wehner’s estate and “for all other just and proper relief.”