At first glance, the western Howard County intersection of Route 32 and River Road looks much like any other along the busy corridor heading toward the nearby Carroll County line. Cars and trucks zoom in both directions, most not heeding the 50-mph speed limit, many not adhering to signs advising headlights for better visibility and nearly every one of them ignoring cars trying to inch into traffic.
To those who live in the Howard Lodge neighborhood tucked inside that intersection, the confluence of high-speed driving and a quick turn into traffic was, quite literally and tragically, an accident waiting to happen.
After a spate of fender-benders in recent years, the intersection was the site of a deadly crash June 23 during the late-afternoon rush.
Taking her two children to a riding lesson at a nearby stable, Kyong Hae Kim tried to turn left at Route 32, heading south. Her Mazda van found its way into the path of a flat-bed tow truck. Kim, 51, and her 13-year-old son, Vincent Woodward, died as a result of injuries from the crash. Kim's 5-year-old, Jacqueline Woodward, was injured.
Neighbors were in shock in the aftermath of the accident but not surprised that it had happened.
Joan Lane, who has lived at the northeast corner of the intersection since 2001, said the day after the accident, "The residents are locked in here. It's dangerous. It's not the first time there's been an accident. The people are held captive."
David and Anita Yingling can speak from experience. Two months before the accident that killed Kim and her son, the Yinglings were driving south on Route 32, returning to the Howard Lodge neighborhood where they have lived for 23 years. As they slowed to turn left onto River Road, the two cars immediately behind them moved to pass. A third southbound car, driven by a 24-year-old Columbia woman, plowed into the Yinglings.
The two cars were totaled, but only Anita Yingling was injured. She re-aggravated injuries to her spine and leg she had broken in a fall months before. Given what happened recently, she considers herself lucky.
"Fortunately there were no further injuries," Anita Yingling said.
The accident involving Kim and her children was the third at the intersection this year, but the Route 32 corridor that crosses from Columbia into Sykesville is considered one of the most dangerous in the area. David Yingling said that the traffic in the seemingly rural setting has grown in volume - and speed - as more families have moved over the county line.
"During the morning rush hour as people are headed south, traffic is bumper-to-bumper and it's hard to get into the flow, but at night, people are going 50 [mph] or more and it's frightening," he said.
Lane said that for all the good drivers who will slow down in the morning rush, flash their lights and allow those turning out of River Road to find their way into the flow of traffic, there are just as many who speed up if they see someone trying to enter Route 32.
Police are still investigating the accident that killed Kim and her son. A request by The Baltimore Sun to obtain a copy of the police report was denied by the Howard County Police Department, pending an outcome of its investigation.
Kellie Boulware, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Transportation Administration, said that there have been complaints from residents of the Howard Lodge community, as well as several other neighborhoods, about the flow of traffic along Route 32. Boulware said that the MSTA will conduct a study later this summer to analyze what might be done to remedy the problem.
Though some have asked for a traffic light to be installed, David Yingling and Joan Lane realize that it's unlikely and possibly counterproductive. Lane said that a light would slow down the morning commute to even more of a crawl, and recalls the uproar when the Interstate 70 interchange nearby was upgraded. He said that making a turn lane into Howard Lodge might help, as it did going the other way into downtown Sykesville.
But, he said, the biggest help might just be patience on the part of drivers. "You just have to wait until it's clear," he said.