SPECIAL REPORT: 'Bloody 31'

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POSTED: Monday, November 5, 2012 - 11:10pm

UPDATED: Friday, December 21, 2012 - 11:23am

 

"To wake up in the middle of the night and find automobiles in your yard, your children dead beside the highway...it's a terrifying situation," - DJ Ford, East Texan

"Bloody 31"  -- that's State Highway 31 East for those who haven't heard the morbid moniker.

East Texan D.J. Ford lives right on 31.  She and most of her family live all along the road...so much so, they call it "Ford Country."  And they've all had brushes with death there throughout their lives...

D.J. and her husband James know all too well.

"My son was killed 100 yards from my house.  That was in '05.  And my brother was injured last year and he's in a wheelchair and a walker at this particular time," James said.

James says he actually helped construct the road back in the 1960s.  He says the term 'Bloody 31' was around even before then from the old 31...that he says was also dangerous!

Smith County Justice of the Peace Mitch Shamburger has had to declare many drivers dead on Highway 31 throughout the years.

He says since Interstate 20 now has a concrete divider in the middle of the road, that's alleviated many of the deaths there.  Now, 31 is certainly his busiest area for fatalities out in the county.

"You know if they put crosses up everywhere where somebody has died on 31, it would probably be strewn with crosses from Tyler to Kilgore," Shamburger said.

According to the Texas Department of Transportation, from 2007 to 2012 there have been 26 fatalities on the 17-mile stretch of road, a total of 378 accidents...involving 849 people.

The Fords tell KETK, it's hard for them to even back out of their driveways because of the speeding drivers...State Trooper Jean Dark has noticed the same thing.

"We've had people who have pulled out and were travelling quite slow being hit by someone who is already traveling over 70 miles an hour," Dark said.

Trooper Dark says a lot of the problems on the road are people passing when it's not safe or legal to do so.

"There's nothing dramatically different that I have noticed about that particular stretch of roadway.  As much as it is that people just need to pay attention to what they're doing," Dark said.

But the Ford family and many others don't agree.  They want something done about highway 31. They've formed a group called the 'Concerned Citizens of Bloody 31' -- they've already gotten nearly 400 signatures for a petition urging the state to do something.

They're hoping the road can be widened.  But there's also an easier fix first.

"They need to at least lower the speed limit!  This is not a normal highway like Interstate 20...it's not...this is a residential area," said Terri Ford. 

Part of the 31 speed limit was reduced from 70 to 60.  But D.J. Ford says there aren't even many houses on that part.

"They did the stretch from 323 to 850 down to 60 miles an hour creating a speed trap!  It serves no other purpose," she said.

Larry Krantz with the Texas Department of Transportation says only so much can be done.

"There are 2 or 3 passing opportunities as it stands now and there's a project that's gonna let -- in August of 2013 to add additional passing opportunities to that stretch of roadway," Krantz said.

He says anything further like widening the road is just too expensive.

"In order to build a 2 lane Farm to Market road, it's $1.6 million a mile.  You're talking about 17 miles of roadway that's built to a higher standard than a farm road.  Plus we don't have the right of way.  The foot print isn't big enough to actually have 4 lanes out there so we're talking about buying additional right of way along that corridor for the entire corridor instead of building the passing lanes that we can in the existing footprint.  Doesn't require any purchase of right of way to make that happen," Krantz said.

Gregory Ford says he's not sure if they can wait until late 2013 when that project starts.

"How many more people are gonna lose their lives on 31 while TxDot is trying to figure out whether they have the monies or when they can fit it in their budget," he said.

Several years ago, Gregory's daughters Nichole and Kimberly were hit from behind while backing out of their driveway to go to Bible study.  His wife Terri got the call.\

"Sitting at Bible study, I got a call.  Saying that my children was in the accident.  And when I come home and there's all kinds of cars and everything and I find my daughter laying on the side of the street.  And then to find out that she was hit by a drunk driver," Terri said emotionally.

"To have your baby sitting out unconscious in a car...and I have to go out on 31 to get her out of the car and lay her there and wait for the ambulance to come...it's pretty...pretty horiffic," Gregory Ford said.

Comments News Comments

I drove 31 East twice a day for 5 years and I couldn't believe some of the driving I saw and the numerous wrecks I witnessed which could have been avoided. I saw people driving on the shoulders to pass someone going 70. I witnessed drivers using the turning lanes for passing or passing in a no passing zone, texting, putting on make up. It's not the people who live on 31 who's causing the problem, that distinction goes to the careless drivers driving with a "devil may care" attitude.

Why don't these angry citizens who live there make it so they can pull out on the road going FORWARD, instead of backing out? How stupid! They need to take a little responsibility themselves. They probably only drive under 50 MPH, too. I imagine they think that it's THEIR road, since they live on it. I don't live any where near it, but I'm a Texas taxpayer, and 31 is a state hiway. Who the hell are THEY to say I shouldn't drive the speed limit on 31? BUT, I DO try to accomodate others..

1st off some of the houses are pretty close to the rd and driveways arent as wide as city driveways and if they could, dont you think they would. i didnt see your name in the article so maybe they speaking in general for those that dont observe the speed limit. Not only that but it really has nothing to do with them it citizens in that area completely who have witness all kinds of wrecks and mishaps from people driving and down the rd drunk, high, speeding while its raining and so on.

Pineknot:
I don't see the residents or angry citizens who live there as "stupid". However, by your statements, for what ever your reason, to blame victims is outrageous. Change places with the residents who have lived there for generations, and you might see their point. Also, it is not always feasible to turn a vehicle around to forward out of a driveway. I try not to travel on 31 unless unavoidable, and I say highways such as 31 need attention for the safety of all.

AMEN... he aint from round here or obvisously doesnt know how dangerous 31 is.. hence the name Bloody 31. myabe he or his family witnesses something of the nature as the others along this strip or know about, he'll have a lil more compassion

I use to be a police officer and I worked a lot of wrecks. If people could just see what could be the results, the blood and gore, of their inpatients they'd slow down. There are two types that drive 31, the Tailgaters and the Snails. Each type is born out of selfishness. JUST not caring about other people. Sadly, this is the way our world has gone. There use to be an old saying, "Slow down the life you save might be your own."

I agree about highway 31 east. I dislike that road and I am scared of it too. I bet drinking is the biggest cause of accidents. I stay clear of that highway don't even like to pass it.

I totally agree with you.

People that have the right of way will speed up, when they see someone about to enter, so this is what causes most accidents. Drivers that think they own the road and don't slow down for others. Deaths would be minor, but these drivers want to prove they belong there and won't give anyone a chance to back out or drive out with ease.

I drive 31 in the AM..
People back out
go slow
turn w/o signals/stop in the road
stop in the road.

Yes, its fast in the AM.
If you do these things
how about not going out before 9:30AM

Or you could CHANGE if you know its a problem!!

Too hard to change ,I guess.

Hmmmmmm

I hate 31. Wrecks all of the time and in Brownsboro you can barely get onto 31 during school hours and the buses have a terrible time getting kids to school. People will NOT let them onto 31 when exiting the high school. Rude is an understatement. Courtesy went the way of the horse and buggy and we have the brain damage enough to wonder about children and their behavior. They learn from us.

I am glad that Tyler is going wet now. I think that it will solve some of the wrecks on Bloody 31. The wrecks are cause by drunk driver and people texting.

now before you blame just drunks and txters..... people not paying attention and rude drivers are the problem as well..... as is the engineer that designed the roads!!

The question is Why would anyone back out on a major roadway. That is just plain dumb. Has a regular user of Hwy 31E, I concur that it is a dangerous road. I don't buy the TXDOT excuse of expense. Hwy 31W is four lane and better maintained. With all the traffic from Longview, Kilgore, and the businesses on Hwy 31E: I venture to guess it has the same amonut of traffic as 31W from Chandler. People on Hwy 31E pay taxes too. Reducing the speed limit will not solve the issue.

maybe cause their car isnt facing the st. how do you suggst someone pull into the driveway on such a busy st, they damn sure cant back in with the amount of traffic on that rd. secondly, 31 east and west can not even be compared because there is no liquor store heading down 31 or when you even get in chandler range. so there is consistently more traffic 31 east due to people purchasing drinks or going to the strip club

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