LEE CLARKSON ACCIDENTS
2011: 5 accidents, 1 fatality, 1 serious injury (to date)
2010: 5 accidents, 3 injuries
2009: 3 accidents, 2 minor injuries, 1 visible injury
2008: 1 accident, 2 people injured
2007: 2 accidents, no injuries
2006: 1 accident, minor injury
Source: Georgia State Patrol
CHICKAMAUGA, Ga. — Past a sharp bend on Lee Clarkson Road, two giant trees stand near one another, each with visible scars.
One tree marks the place where 21-year-old Jared Bean was killed seven years ago; a steel cross and flowers now stand at the spot. Nearby, fresh burn marks along the other tree's trunk and shards of glass at the base show where 17-year-old Gordon Lee High School student Jordan Queen was killed last week when his car sped out of control and slammed into the tree.
State numbers show 17 wrecks have occurred on Lee Clarkson Road in the last five years, nearly all within the sharp curve. Most of the crashes involved minor to severe injuries, Georgia State Patrol statistics show.
Those figures don't include wrecks worked by Chickamauga police, ones that took place on the section of road inside city limits and didn't involve fatalities. But Police Chief Micheal Haney said Wednesday he doesn't recall any significant wrecks in the past couple of years.
Days before Jordan was killed, another Gordon Lee student, Kassidy Blevins, lost control of her vehicle in the curve and flipped into a ditch, injuring herself, Georgia State Patrol spokesman Gordy Wright said.
The accidents and Jordan's recent death have sparked an online campaign from residents who want Walker County to widen the road or remove the trees at the curve.
On Monday, Beth Oliver-Ibanez, the parent of a Gordon Lee student, began a petition on Facebook, hoping to gain support that she can take to county officials. By Wednesday, more than 500 people had joined the group called "Fix Lee Clarkson Road."
"Enough is enough," Oliver-Ibanez said. "It should have been fixed years ago."
Jordan's mother, Suzanne Queen, said she's glad there's a petition to improve the road.
"I do think something needs to be done," she said. "My child is one of the numbers now on the roadway."
But Walker officials say the road was noted as a problem spot years ago and paved with granite instead of asphalt to make the surface less slick.
"If they're going to speed, there is nothing we can do," Walker County Emergency Services Director David Ashburn said.
Speed and a wet surface are two common factors in most wrecks on Lee Clarkson Road, Georgia State Patrol reports show.
Some drivers moved through the curve too fast or met another car in their lane and yanked the steering wheel too hard, spinning out of control. Most then slammed into a tree or fence, reports show.
While wet surfaces often were the cause, one wreck in January 2008 that injured two people happened in daylight when the weather was crisp and clear. This past January, two wrecks took place in one day.
Officials say it was beginning to rain Nov. 9 when Jordan, driving from school, sped into the curve, spun out and hit the tree. He died 40 minutes later at a hospital.
It's not clear whether Kassidy was speeding when she wrecked.
Ashburn said the road's speed limit is 35 mph, and officials have the state-mandated signs posted on each side of the sharp curve. But after Jordan's death, the county posted a 25 mph sign at the entrance of the curve and a warning sign farther back.
"We put more out there hoping people will pay attention," Ashburn said.
Lee Clarkson Road is a main path to the entrance of Gordon Lee High School. Principal Clay Crowder knows the curve is dangerous for students, but he's not sure there is a simple solution.
"I wish I knew an answer to make everything safe," he said.
Proposed fixes include adding a shoulder in the curve, widening the road, cutting the trees along the curve or adding speed bumps.
Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell said she wasn't aware of the problem curve on Lee Clarkson.
"I didn't realize we had a questionable dangerous curve issue," she said.
Heiskell said she gladly would accept the petition from Oliver-Ibanez, but she doesn't know if any of the suggestions will be feasible or where the money to implement them would come from.
Walker County already has identified 12 road projects, including a dangerous curve on Johnson Road, that could be addressed if county residents vote on next year's ballot to hike their sales tax by 1 cent. The tax is part of a statewide transportation referendum.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...