The road to Marble Hill, Mo., is lined with crosses, common markers of fatal accidents.
Teenagers from the area have experienced a string of car accidents in recent years, especially along highways 34 and 51.
After the recent death of a friend, one local teenager, Brittany Holmes, is advocating improvements of the curvy Bollinger County roads.
Holmes, 15, said she knew seven teenagers who died in car accidents along the twisting roads. The most recent, Lauren Rhodes, died Dec. 23 when her car slid off Highway 51 and into a tree. She was a sophomore at Woodland High School.
“I remember just thinking it wasn’t the Lauren I knew and they had gotten the name wrong,” said Holmes, a home-schooled student.
Holmes wrote a letter and distributed it to politicians and media outlets to bring awareness to the situation.
“Lauren was one of my best friends, and I can’t stand by and let others be taken too soon,” she said in the letter. “I believe our roads are in dire need of being fixed.”
The letter mentioned six fatalities since 2003 – Josh Lemons, Jessica Dees, Jennifer Lincoln, Aaron McKinney, Cole Benfield and Rhodes, “to name a few,” it said.
She said friends encouraged her to make the statement to prove a point.
“If someone finally stands up, they’ll have to do something,” she said.
Holmes said she advocates improvements like guard rails, reflective paint and shoulders along the roads.
Holmes, who will turn 16 in February, has her driving permit.
“Certain areas, I don’t want to drive at all,” she said.
Jessica Little, a sophomore at Woodland High School, said she saw many accidents along those roads, especially where she lived along Highway 34 near Grassy.
“These highways are just kind of terrible,” she said.
Like Holmes, Little was friends with Rhodes.
“I just went shopping with her the Monday before she passed away,” she said.
She said there is at least one student fatality every year, usually a junior.
“It’s like a curse on our school,” Little said.
As more of her classmates get their licenses, she said, the potential for accidents grows. She said she cannot avoid driving on those highways, so she is careful on the sharp curves.
“We’re new drivers and new to the road and everything,” she said.
In her letter, Holmes said the improvements should be made for the benefit of new and experienced drivers.
“I know that you could blame the accidents on inexperience on the roads,” the letter said. “And that is true, somewhat. But we have to face it. Young people are going to drive, it’s part of life.”
She received a response from Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, Southeast Missouri’s congressional representative. Emerson recently secured a $500,000 earmark for safety improvements along Highway 34. Her office is working with local officials on other projects along Highway 51.
Information from: Southeast Missourian,
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