Texas highway used as shortcut proves to be home to many deadly crashes
EAST TEXAS (KSLA) - Six months ago — two Haughton men lost their lives in a fiery wreck on Texas State Highway 315.
Kaleb Hamby and Gabriel Webb died when the driver of an 18-wheeler failed to slow down and rear-ended Hamby’s pickup. Both men were fathers of three children.
State Highway 315 connects the East Texas towns of Carthage in Panola County and Mount Enterprise in Rusk County. While this mostly two-lane road is just 26 miles long, 315 is one of the most dangerous highways in the ArkLaTex.
Since 2012, the Texas Department of Transportation recorded 462 crashes on the highway. Four hundred sixty-three people suffered injuries in those wrecks, with 48 folks seriously injured and 36 people killed.
Many have used Highway 315 as a shortcut to places like Nacogdoches or Houston. KSLA’s Chief Investigative Reporter Stacey Cameron looked into the shortcut that has become a highway of horror — taking dozens of lives in just the past 10 years alone.
As pastor of the First Baptist Church in Clayton, Texas, Ken Stone has faithfully lifted prayers for almost four decades. Now, many of Pastor Stone’s pleas to the Lord are prayers over the crossroads outside his church.
It’s a dangerous intersection, where Stone witnessed a tragic fatal accident he says he won’t ever forget.
Stone said he fears crashes are becoming more common on 315 because the once quiet country road is now a major thru-way for semi-trucks traveling between cities like Shreveport and Houston. The highways designed for heavier traffic are Texas 149 and US 59.
According to Fire Marshall Randy Liedtke, truck drivers really started taking advantage of the Highway 315 short-cut, about ten years ago. As a result, Liedtke believes the accidents are getting worse.
“We have seen an increase and uptick in the number of fatality wrecks on that highway,” he said.
Liedtke mentioned the deadly accident last December, that took the lives of Hamby and Webb at the intersection of Highway 315 and County Road 106.
“In my years at the fire department, working wrecks, that’s one of the bad ones,” he said.
According to a police crash report, a tired semi-driver, who failed to control his speed rear-ended the men’s truck, killing both. Liedtke said when truckers make mistakes on 315, the consequences too often turn deadly.
“It just takes a split second and it’s too late to react to the situation that might be in front of you,” he said.
TxDOT crash records covering the past decade confirm those fears, showing that semi-driver fatigue, speed, or traveling in the wrong lane were a factor in every fatal wreck involving an 18-wheeler on Highway 315.
David Aguilar works & lives off 315. He says hundreds of tractor-trailers pass his sawmill every day and he thinks big rigs started exiting the bigger highways because 315 offers a 70-mile-per-hour speed limit that is rarely enforced.
“It got really bad after 2008 because almost every vehicle was getting GPS’s or smartphones,” he said.
Pastor Stone agrees, saying 18-wheelers speeding down 315 is a dangerous combination.
“I have a CDL license and have driven some pretty large vehicles, and knowing 315, I would not save that 11-minutes. I’d stay on the bigger highway,” Stone said.
Crash records from TXDOT show semi-trucks were involved in 113 accidents on Highway 315 in the last decade. That’s 25 percent of the total crash count. When it comes to fatal wrecks the numbers are worse.
Since 2012, TxDOT data shows semis involved in half of the 23 deadly crashes on the highway. Of the 36 people killed in those accidents, 22 died in big rig wrecks.
Determined to make 315 a safer highway, Pastor Stone says he recently started calling state lawmakers asking for their help in getting the speed limit dropped and adding red lights at two dangerous intersections: County Road 106 and Farm Road 95.
“The least thing — lower the speed limit. What does that cost? Change a few signs, you know, that say 70. Change them to 55,” he said.
Through a public records request, KSLA learned that the state of Texas performed speed studies in 2016 and 2018. However, according to TXDOT, “the study results did not warrant an adjustment to the speed limit” on Highway 315. KSLA also requested an on-camera interview with TXDOT, to ask about adding stoplights but department officials refused our invitation to sit down.
“How do you put a price on a life? You don’t. How do you put a price on an eternity? You don’t,” said Stone.
Convinced 315 is part of his calling, Stone said he isn’t giving up. He said with the Lord’s help, safer days on this highway lie ahead.
“He turns the hearts of kings, so he can turn the legislature or TXDOT of whatever has to happen to get these things in place,” he said.
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