WENDELL, N.C. — Metal cables designed to prevent head-on crashes run across the medians of several highways in North Carolina. An accident wiped out part of the cable on U.S. Highway 64, and that opening set the stage for a fatal crash a month later.
On Nov. 7, an armored truck ran through the median and knocked out the cables separating the two sides of the road when it lost control during a rainstorm in the westbound lane of the highway.
"We're sure that guardrail had not been repaired (before the second crash),” Wendell Fire Chief Tom Vaughan said. “We're out there often, and we've been watching."
Vaughan said a sport utility vehicle driven by Billy Ray Bullock lost control, jumped the median and slammed into a car driven by Charles Burger on Christmas Day. Burger’s wife and son died in the crash. He was in critical condition Thursday at WakeMed.
"It's been enough now,” Vaughan said. “And we've put information together, and we'd like to see something done. If it can, we'd like to see it corrected."
Because motorists and some emergency officials have complained about that section, the North Carolina Highway Patrol is looking into the accident history there. The results of their study could mean changes for the stretch of highway.
"We take it very seriously anytime there's a fatality on one of our highways,” DOT engineer Wally Bowman said.
Bowman said it's not unusual for guard cables to go unrepaired for weeks at a time, because the department waits for several of them to go down before fixing them all at once. He said, however, the cable could have made the difference.
"There's always a chance that if the guard rail had been there, the accident could have been avoided,” Bowman said. “We don't have that information at this time."
No charges have been filed in the Christmas Day crash, but authorities said Bullock might face involuntary manslaughter charges at a later date.
Vaughan said the fatal wreck was the seventh accident with injuries his department has responded to in that area of Highway 64 in the past year.
Bowman said DOT workers will put up signs warning drivers that the road is slippery when wet. The department is waiting for the Highway Patrol's report on the stretch before deciding on possibly reducing the speed limit.