Fatal crash at Highway 370 intersection ramps up safety concerns - Omaha.com
Published Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 9:27 am
Fatal crash at Highway 370 intersection ramps up safety concerns

Even before a teenager died last week along Highway 370 near Gretna, neighbors and drivers who use the intersection say the state needed to do more to improve safety in the area.

The death of 15-year-old Nate LaFave in a traffic accident Friday ramped up concerns over the 180th Street intersection with Highway 370.

Traffic skyrockets each fall at the intersection, when drivers head south on 180th to Vala's Pumpkin Patch. And now the highway has been expanded to four lanes.

Since the accident, Sarpy County Board Chairman Jim Warren said he and County Engineer Dennis Wilson have asked the Nebraska Department of Roads to look into installing lights at the intersection.

The Roads Department has final say because Highway 370 is a state highway. But the state says the intersection doesn't meet qualifications for a traffic signal that would stop east-west traffic.

Warren said the state has indicated that it won't do a new traffic study until Vala's traffic has died down and until the highway construction project is done. The state says it's simply waiting for the construction project to be completed.

People who frequent the area say now is the time to improve the intersection. Orange construction cones still line much of the years-long widening project along Highway 370, which is now scheduled to wrap up by the end of the month.

Pat Lichter, a board member for the nearby Tiburon subdivision, has lived in the area for about 16 years. Lichter said a traffic signal or at least blinking yellow lights there could have prevented Friday's accident.

“(The accident) is on the state for their lack of insight and lack of doing the proper thing,” he said.

The teenagers involved — driver Madeline Shely, 16, and passengers LaFave and Carly Anne Kelly, 15 — were traveling south on 180th Street toward Vala's. Their Jeep Cherokee collided with an eastbound pickup truck at the Highway 370 intersection.

LaFave, a sophomore at Mount Michael Benedictine High School, died as a result of the collision. Kelly's condition remained critical Tuesday, and Shely's condition was fair at the Nebraska Medical Center, a hospital spokesman said.

The accident is still being investigated.

Mary Jo Oie, a spokeswoman for the Roads Department, said the intersection of Highway 370 at 180th Street didn't meet the department's criteria for east- and westbound traffic signals because the area had too few accidents and too little traffic volume, among other criteria.

Stop signs are in place for north-south traffic on 180th Street.

According to 2012 numbers from the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency, an average of about 13,000 vehicles per day pass through the intersection.

Friday's fatal accident is one of two accidents at that intersection since Jan. 1, according to the Sarpy County Sheriff's Office.

Vala's owner Tim Vala said some kind of traffic lights would be “well worth it” when his seasonal attraction is open for 42 days in September and October. Vala views the heavy-volume intersection as a safety concern.

Last year, the seasonal attraction in Sarpy County drew some 200,000 visitors.

Before the widening project, which was originally projected to be finished by Sept. 1, Vala asked the Department of Roads for a longer south turn lane off Highway 370 onto 180th Street. But the state built the turn lane the same size as others along the highway.

“We are extremely sad,” he said of the fatal accident. “You just hate to have something like that happen.”

Sarpy County sheriff's deputies will monitor the area closely during the last few weeks of the Vala's season, Capt. Greg London said. But the Sheriff's Office won't direct traffic at the intersection.

Ginny Bresette, who has lived north of Highway 370 along 180th Street for more than 30 years, called the intersection “a bad one.” She said her neighbors have often avoided it as it has gotten busier.

At least three of her neighbors, herself included, have been rear-ended there, she said.

“I can only imagine a young driver sitting there. She just took her opportunity to go,” she said. “It's just too sad that all the circumstances ended up in a tragedy.”

All intersections along Highway 370 will be monitored after the widening project wraps up at the end of the month, Oie said.

When the highway fully opens, the speed limit will increase to 60 mph from its current 45 mph that has been posted during construction, she said.

Changes are possible, she said, if engineers determine that additional signage or a reduction in speed is necessary.

“We build the roads to be as safe as they can,” she said. “We want everyone to be as safe as they can.”

World-Herald staff writer Cody Winchester contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: Emily Nohr

emily.nohr@owh.com    |   402-444-1192    |  

Emily covers Papillion, La Vista, Gretna and Springfield, as well as metro-area roads.

Sole big donor to Beau McCoy says he expects nothing in return
Firefighters battle brush fire near Fontenelle Forest
Omaha police investigate two shootings
Sioux City riverboat casino prepares to close, still hoping to be saved
Omaha high schoolers to help canvass for Heartland 2050
Mizzou alumni aim to attract veterinary students to Henry Doorly Zoo
Grant ensures that Sioux City can start building children's museum
Party looks to 'nudge' women into public office in Iowa
For birthday, Brownell-Talbot student opts to give, not get
Two taken to hospital after fire at Benson home
Grace: Pipe organ concert a tribute to couple's enduring love
Omaha-area jails and ERs new front line in battling mental illness
Convicted killer Nikko Jenkins might await his sentence in prison
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
Civil rights hearing to consider voting policies in Midwest
17 senators in Nebraska Legislature hit their (term) limits
It's a pursuit of pastel at Spring Lake Park's Easter egg hunt
Financial picture improving for city-owned Mid-America Center
No injuries after fire at midtown's old Mercer Mansion
29-year-old Omahan arrested for 22nd time in Lincoln
Police: Slaying of woman in Ralston apartment likely over drugs
Explosion near 29th, Woolworth damages vehicles
Omaha police arrest man, 19, accused in March shooting
Earth gets its day in the sun at Elmwood Park
Beau McCoy strikes Obama doll in TV ad; Democrats are not happy
< >
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
A World War II veteran from Omaha will return this week to Europe to commemorate a tragedy in the run-up to D-Day.
Dickson’s Week in Review, April 13-19
On Twitter some guy tweeted that the spring game isn’t taken as seriously as a regular-season contest. What was your first clue? When the head coach entered waving a cat aloft?
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »