Fresh signs and flowers adorn the area of a railroad crossing where a Harlem woman was killed by a train Monday.
The flowers pay tribute to a family member lost. The signs warn of the crossing's closing.
On Monday, Carlene Flakes, 54, drove her Ford Aerostar over the railroad crossing on Planer Mill Road at Gordon Highway. She stopped at a stop sign with the back of her van still in the path of the train.
The train clipped her van and sent it tumbling into a ditch. Flakes died 30 minutes later.
Over the next two days, Harlem officials discussed how to react to the accident and how to prevent further tragedy, Mayor John Bentley said.
Late Wednesday, the Georgia Department of Transportation said the Planer Mill crossing is a city street.
"At that point, we decided we need to close that crossing," Bentley said.
Gloria Johnson, Flakes' younger sister, had said Tuesday that she would like to see the crossing closed. On Thursday, two sets of flowers lay a few feet away from county workers who were closing the crossing.
"We'll just be there for each other," Johnson said Tuesday from her Harlem home, where family members were gathered.
Next for city officials is a coordinated safety study of the crossing with the DOT, Bentley said. The study will try to determine whether the crossing needs to be moved or reopened.
Columbia County Roads and Bridges workers put up signs Thursday to notify motorists of the closed crossing.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"If I were asked what to do at any railroad crossing, the first thing I would say is I would like to see it closed or moved," said Jim Salvador, a DOT railroad crossing program manager.
The Planer Mill crossing is the only direct access to Gordon Highway for nearby residents. Former Mayor James Lewis lives a few blocks away and agrees with the closing, on one condition.
"If they close that crossing, it should be with the understanding that they put (in) another crossing," he said.
Bentley agrees that the city needs a crossing in that part of town. He said that within the past two years a train broke down in the middle of the city. The only way for motorists to cross from one side of the city to the other was at the Planer Mill crossing.
"They're going to fight opening up another one, I'm sure," Bentley said. "In case of an emergency, we've got to have something down there one way or another."
Though Harlem officials are taking a close look at the crossing in the wake of Monday's accident, examining traffic safety is nothing new for Harlem. For the past few months, city leaders have been looking at ways to improve conditions at railroad crossings and stop signs.
"One of the things we have done, and not because of this, is evaluating a lot of our traffic situations and potential hazards," Bentley said. "We have several train crossings that the buses have to cross. So, what we've done is we've put three-way stops in at two of those sites already. We've done that through a change of city ordinance."
Bentley said the city is preparing to examine such a change at a third location.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.