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Two fatal accidents prompt questions on M-15 safety



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October 09, 2013 - Brandon Twp.- Two fatal accidents at the same location on M-15 in the township within five months of each other have residents and officials concerned.

Township Supervisor Kathy Thurman said she and Oakland County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Pete Burkett will be contacting the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Traffic Improvement Association regarding the safety of the area near McDonald's in the 900 block of S. Ortonville Road.

"I don't know if we need more signage or to lower the speed limit," said Thurman. "We want to bring that area to their attention as a high incident area and encourage them to address the problem."

Thurman and Burkett discussed the issue this week after Donald Ruks, 58, of Ortonville was killed shortly after 3 p.m. Oct. 2, when the 1999 Honda Valkyrie motorcycle he was driving northbound on M-15 struck a 2004 Volkswagen Golf. The 21-year-old Ortonville woman driving the Golf was attempting to turn left out of the McDonald's and drove directly into the path of the motorcycle. The woman was uninjured.

On May 24, Dr. Nabil Awad El-Shamaa, a 74-year-old retired Troy doctor, was killed at the same location on M-15 when the driver of a 1999 Chrysler Town and Country van turned left into the McDonald's. El-Shamaa, who was driving a 2001 Acura northbound, struck the Chrysler, then went left of center and struck a southbound 2008 Chevy Silverado pick-up truck driven by a 33-year-old Texas resident.

Both El-Shamaa and the Texas resident were transported to Genesys Regional Medical Center in Grand Blanc. El-Shamaa was pronounced deceased at the hospital at 9:21 a.m. The Texas resident was listed in stable condition.

The driver of the Chrysler, a 31-year-old Holly resident, had four children in her vehicle, all under the age of 6. None of the occupants of the Chrysler were injured.

Alcohol was not a factor in the fatal crashes.

According to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), from 2008-2012, there were 323 reported accidents on M-15 between Seymour Lake Road and South Street in Brandon Township. Of those, none were fatal; four caused incapacitating injuries; 59 caused other injuries; and 260 were property damage only.

SEMCOG data reveals that 47 percent of the total crashes involved young drivers; 18 percent involved deer; and 31.6 percent occurred at an intersection. Alcohol or drugs were involved in 5.5 percent of the accidents.

Jeff Horne, Oakland County traffic safety engineer with the Michigan Department of Transportation, said that no recent traffic studies have been performed on M-15 between I-75 in Independence Township north to County Line Road, dividing Oakland and Genesee counties.

M-15 on this stretch is classified as medium congestion by SEMCOG. Horne said the number of driveway approaches on a stretch of road increases turning conflict points.

Mitigation measures on M-15 to reduce traffic accidents, he said, include a left/right turn lane, shoulders, traffic signals, signs, pavement markings and access management. Widening of the road does not necessarily reduce traffic crashes, but typically increases mobility and capacity. A speed study has not been conducted in the area recently.

Burkett said distracted drivers are more often than not the cause of crashes.

"People have got to pay attention and try to alleviate distractions in your vehicle," he said. "Babies crying, eating food, talking on the phone, texting, pets on your lap—these are the things that cause accidents. If you are focused on driving, more than likely you won't get in a crash."

Horne said MDOT evaluates whether changes need to be made to a roadway when an upcoming major construction project is planned. During the design phase, a team of engineers review the subject road's crash history, geometric characteristics, mobility and more to determine whether changes are warranted. MDOT also compiles a list of "high crash locations" which are reviewed and evaluated to see whether improvements can be made.

Plans were recently announced for the resurfacing of M-15 from Wolfe Road (just north of McDonald's in the township) south to Dixie Highway, scheduled for next spring. MDOT does not consider this a "major" project requiring a safety study.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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