Scenic road, tragic road

A half-mile stretch in Baltimore County horse country is the site of six deaths since 2003

January 20, 2007|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,Sun Reporter

Motorists on Tufton Avenue come upon horses and pastures, and wide views of hillside and sky.

Closer to the road are the memorials.

Two shrines honor three teenagers who were killed in crashes about a half-mile apart. One of those occurred on the same curve where three other people have died in the past two years.

"It's a beautiful ride during the day - the horse farms, the views. It's gorgeous," said Neil Goldberg, whose 18-year-old son died in August in Tufton Avenue's most recent fatal accident. "But at night, it's a death trap. People keep getting killed, and I don't know what needs to happen there before the county will do something."

Police officers and traffic engineers say that the road itself is not dangerous. The fatalities - all single-vehicle crashes - were caused by drivers who were speeding, lost control of their vehicles and crashed into a bridge, fence or utility pole, police say.

The 17-year-old driving the Chevrolet Corsica in which Marc Goldberg was killed was going more than 90 miles per hour and had a blood-alcohol content of 0.103 percent, according to police. The legal limit for adult drivers in Maryland is 0.08 percent.

Even so, there have been so many complaints about the twisting rural road that the county's public works department ordered a caution sign to warn drivers about the gentle curve where most of the fatalities have occurred.

A local resident said the new sign was installed Thursday afternoon.

"The road has been looked at a number of times," said David Fidler, a spokesman for the county public works department.

"While everyone is aware of the accident problem, according to technical standards, these curves are not particularly dangerous and did not warrant having signs put up."

The curve was again evaluated, Fidler said, after a resident contacted the department to raise concerns about the fatalities.

Tufton Avenue stretches about four miles, winding from Greenspring Avenue in the Reisterstown area to Falls Road, between Worthington Valley and Hunt Valley. It passes near the home of retired Orioles star Cal Ripken Jr.

Miles of fencing - some painted white or brown and some left as weathered wood - crisscross hilly farmland dotted with barns and ponds. A portion of the Maryland Hunt Cup steeplechase course crosses the road.

A canopy of intertwined trees has created an archway, of sorts, over one stretch of the road where the speed limit is 40 mph. At one point, an S-curve forces motorists to slow down.

Just west of that curve, which is marked by yellow flashers and a 20 mph sign, is a gentler turn coming out of a straightaway.

There the roadway drops a bit as it curves north.

Beyond the bend, a blue and white Star of David nailed to a utility pole marks the spot where Marc Goldberg - as well as three others in two years - was fatally injured in a car crash.

Six lengths of fence near the star are covered with messages scrawled by Goldberg's family members, neighbors and Franklin High School classmates. And some of the fence rails bear remnants of the red, green and yellow paint that his friends used to honor the Bob Marley fan after his death.

The crash occurred about 9:20 p.m. on Aug. 25 after Goldberg and some friends had left Northwest Ice Rink, where they were scheduled to work as disc jockeys for Goldberg's father's entertainment company, Neil Goldberg said. When the teenagers arrived a few minutes late for the gig and some of their friends tried to cut in line, the rink's manager had asked them to leave, Goldberg said.

The Owings Mills man said he spoke to his son at 8:40 p.m. that night and told him to just bring the DJ equipment home. He never heard from him again.

"I was calling and calling and, to be honest, getting rather annoyed," Neil Goldberg said. "I didn't know. A half-hour later, he was lying in that field, and he was gone."

The 17-year-old who was driving the car has been preliminarily charged by police as a juvenile with vehicular manslaughter, vehicular homicide and various charges related to speeding, driving under the influence and reckless driving, according to Deborah Kemp, a juvenile prosecutor.

The driver had crossed a double-yellow line and was going eastbound at 96 mph in the wrong lane when he encountered the curve, according to police. The car rolled and hit a fence, throwing Marc Goldberg headfirst out the back windshield.

The 18-year-old, who was sitting in the back seat, was not wearing a seatbelt.

"The biggest thing is speed," said Cpl. Mike Hill, a county police spokesman. "Most of these are young people who are speeding on the road and not negotiating the curves of the turns and losing control of their vehicles."

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