Taming Petes Mountain Road
After losing her daughter in a crash, Carrie Higgins is committed to ending recklessness on the perilous stretch of rural road
Some two months after her daughter died in a car accident on Petes Mountain Road in unincorporated West Linn, Carrie Higgins still visits the crash site often.
She sits there mourning, sometimes for hours at a time, amidst the flowers and messages left as a memorial to 17-year-old Maddi Higgins.
The narrow, winding road is quiet, save for the occasional passing car. Higgins pays special attention to each of them. She is often appalled by what she sees.
I cant tell you how fast people fly by there, Higgins said. Its hideous.
A high rate of speed is what killed her daughter, according to investigators. Maddi was in the front passenger seat when the car driven by 18-year-old Hayden Soyk veered off the road and into a telephone pole. Soyk also was killed in the June 8 crash.
And yet, Higgins still sees vehicles both large and small tearing along a treacherous road that has already seen far too many casualties.
Law enforcement and residents have long known of the perils of Petes Mountain Road. Now, spurred on by the loss of her daughter, Higgins has committed herself to making drivers aware of the deadly consequences of speeding on the road, and to advocating for tangible safety improvements.
Going exceptionally fast
The constantly changing elevation of Petes Mountain Road up, down, and then up again is similar to a roller coaster.
The area is popular for hopping young drivers try to get air as they come up over the crest of the hill, Clackamas County sheriffs Sergeant Dan Kraus said. Ive driven it at a variety of speeds, the specific route (Soyk and Higgins) were traveling, and I dont see how you get air without going exceptionally fast.
You can assume people are doing very much faster than the speed limit to achieve this.
The speed limit on Petes Mountain Road ranges between 30 and 40 mph, but markers are few and far between. And, because the road is not heavily travelled, it is not a top priority for police patrols.
Despite the installation of guardrails at the northern end of the road in 2010 after residents of the area lobbied the county for safety improvements much of the stretch is still narrow and dangerous for cars that veer out of control.
Rural roads are the deadly roads, Higgins said. Its a matter of abating and trying to reduce risk factors.
Difficult place to enforce
Between January 2010 and June 2014, 13 accidents were reported on Petes Mountain Road, according to the Clackamas County Sheriffs Office. During that period, one crash the accident that killed Higgins and Soyk was fatal. Eight of those crashes were found to be caused by either careless driving or excessive speed.
In 2009, a 23-year old woman died when her vehicle veered off the road and fell into a 150-foot ravine.
A 24-year old man was killed in 2002 when his car veered from a curve and hit a tree.
Higgins is particularly concerned about the speed problems on Petes Mountain Road, and cited hopping as an activity that has been popular for many years.
I went to La Salle High School (in Milwaukie), Higgins said. People from there and people from here have been notoriously hill hopping for years (at Petes Mountain Road). Its not patrolled, and thats where the teens and thrill chasers will go.
Higgins believes the county should increase its patrol presence on Petes Mountain Road or, at the very least, install radar speed signs to let drivers know how fast they are traveling.
Kraus said there have been lots of conversations since this incident about what the remedies would be. But, he said, increased patrols would be difficult.
My experience, having worked it, has been that there are horrific crashes but not a high amount of traffic, Kraus said. Its a difficult place to enforce. You have to catch people doing something exceptionally crazy; most people realize how dangerous it is, so they drive carefully.
Due to a wrongful death claim filed Aug. 11 on behalf of the Estate of Madison Higgins, Clackamas County Traffic Engineering Supervisor Joe Marek said he could not comment on future safety improvements that might be implemented on Petes Mountain Road.
In the claim, attorney John Coletti wrote, It is my understanding that multiple motor accidents resulting in injuries and deaths have occurred at or near this location and that road design and/or signage may be an issue.
My thing is, if this has been going on, we need to educate from a young age, Higgins said, drawing inspiration from the anti-smoking campaigns she experienced growing up. (Petes Mountain Road) probably is a safe street when the speed limit is being followed.
Projecting reckless acts
In the era of social media, Kraus says, the allure of online fame has only compounded the problem.
The social media component is a reality, Kraus said. If you can post a Vine (social media video) of you catching air over a serious hill, theres an ability to project a reckless act in a way that didnt exist before.
The issue, of course, isnt limited to Petes Mountain Road. In May 2013, a 16-year old and three friends were hill hopping in Salem and collided with a cyclone fence. The driver was impaled on the fence, but survived, as did the three passengers, according news reports.
Just one month later, a 19-year old died in Jefferson after crashing into a utility pole. Marion County Sheriff deputies said the driver was hill hopping and driving between 90 and 100 miles per hour, according to reports.
Higgins posted that story, as well as another from this year in Iowa, to a Facebook page titled Long Live Maddi - Say Yes to Life.
As a mom, its disheartening to sit there and mourn death and as much as I feel like it affected people to think that something will happen there again, Higgins said.