Local News

Confusing Light Cycle May Have Been Factor In Fatal 2-Vehicle Collision In Cary

Posted April 14, 2004

— Cary police said Tuesday that a teenage driver in Monday's fatal crash on Highway 64 was in violation of her graduated license.

Katherine Hart, 16, was permitted to have only one passenger in her car. Instead, she had two. Both died when Hart pulled in front of a tractor-trailor trying to make a left turn.

The victims were Breann Gentz and Kassel Smit, both 16. Hart was in WakeMed in good condition Tuesday.

Grief counselors were on hand Tuesday at Apex High School and Cary High School, where the teens were students.

"Most of them (students) are still in a state of shock," Cary High counselor Raychelle Lohmann said. "They're missing their friend, trying to get a hold of reality, what's happened.

"That's what we're hearing, sadness and shock."

The wreck happened around 4:30 p.m. in the eastbound lane of U.S. 64 in southern Cary. Hart was attempting to turn south onto Mackenan Drive when her car was struck by the truck. Both had green lights.

There have been six accidents at that intersection just this year.

Police still have some questions about what caused the wreck and whether a traffic light played a part. Drivers said it can be a confusing intersection; sometimes there is a green turn arrow, and sometimes drivers have to yield on a solid green light.

There were 17 accidents at the intersection between January 2000 and August 2003. Six of those involved left turns.

"We've had accidents at that location, and not all of them have been young drivers," Cary police Sgt. Joe Clifton said. "So, I'm hesitant to say that inexperience caused that accident."

Investigators said Hart tried to turn left from westbound 64 onto Mackenan Drive. She had a green light in her turn lane, but no arrow, which means she was supposed to yield. Her car was broadsided by the truck, which was traveling east.

Not having an arrow may have caused some confusion for Hart; the arrow only comes on after a delay.

"When it cycles back to U.S. 64, and it still shows a car in that turn lane, then it will give that car a green arrow," Clifton said.

Department of Transportation officials will look at how the light cycles and see if they need to make changes. The district attorney's office is still trying to decide whether or not to file charges in this case.

Cary police combed the intersection looking for answers. At the same time, people who knew the teens also sought answers.

"People this age aren't supposed to die," Lohmann said. "It's not fair. It's not right. We get a lot of that from the adolescents just trying to understand there's a process."

Said Apex High School dean John Hayden: "Basically, we're just there for the kids, help them get through. It's not easy. Today is not the end of it."

Gentz was a sophomore at Apex High School. She was popular, smart and deeply involved in her church.

Smit was a junior at Cary High School. He was on the track team, in the school play, and always made others smile.

"He made friends easily," Cary Principal Dave Coley said. "He had a sense of humor that everyone enjoyed. He was the kind of young man everyone enjoyed being around."

The driver of the tanker, Dwight Gilmore, 40, of 905 North Weldon Street in Gastonia, was not injured.

The truck Gilmore was driving was owned by BOC Gasses in Murray Hill, N.J. It was carrying liquid nitrogen; none was spilled.

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