When rain starts to come down, Tricia White gets a feeling in her bones. This might be the time someone doesn’t survive.
“Every time it rains, you know that something’s gonna happen,” she said.
White has seen more car accidents than she can count, some nearly fatal, and she wants that trend to stop. White lives in the 6900 block of FM 195 and when rain clouds roll in, she knows it’s a possibility she’ll be picking up the phone to call 911.
White’s house is perched just off the road near CR 43330, surrounded by a tree and fence that have been battered by vehicles spinning off the road in wet weather. Cars come ripping down the road heading toward Paris, but there’s a dangerous spot right before they pass White’s house where the road holds water and even traction tires aren’t enough to stop vehicles from hydroplaning right into her or her neighbor’s driveway.
Faught Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Rick Browning knows the spot all too well. In his 24 years working for the department, Browning estimates he’s responded to about 70 car wrecks by White’s house. Most vehicles are totaled. Arms have been broken and legs have been shattered.
“You’re at the mercy of gravity and centrifugal force and everything else,” Browning said. “There’s no way to know where to control the vehicle. So this is kind of an area that’s just destined for more wrecks.”
There’s no shoulder on the area of FM 195 that passes by White’s house, and Browning said that means that if a vehicle loses control, even just for a second, it’s destined for disaster.
“Any amount of water on the surface causes your vehicle to hydroplane just a little bit, then it causes a major catastrophe because you can’t stay on the road,” Browning said. “If there was a shoulder of course, that’s a little different. You might be able to stay off on hard pavement, but it’s real soft when it rains there. As soon as a tire catches and loses the pavement, it catches the grassy area and you can’t steer and that’s been the prevalent problem.”
There’s no room for a shoulder on the sides of the slim road and Jayci Whitley knows just how hard it is to correct a car there when it starts to lose control. The elementary school teacher who was driving her dream car, a sporty red Lexus, in the rain down FM 195 toward Paris a couple of years ago when she spun off the road and ended up in White’s driveway. Whitley’s car blew through White’s fence and smashed into one of the trees, leaving her legs covered in debris. White’s husband Ricky helped pull Whitley’s car out of the ditch, and as the shock began to settle down, Whitley realized just how serious the accident was.
“My car just folded up like an accordion in the front,” Whitley said. “It was very bad.”
Whitley had been on her way to a family member’s house when the crash occurred and she said they knew something was wrong when she didn’t arrive on time and they saw emergency vehicles screaming down the road.
“They came down and they thought the worst when they saw my car, because when you look at my car, it’s like, how did she make it out of that?” Whitely said.
As she emerged from the crushed car, Whitley said her arm began to throb. At the time, she didn’t realize that section of the road would cause her to be out of commission for weeks.
“(I broke) my right arm and so they rushed me to the emergency room and had to reset it and all, but they couldn’t get it set back just right so I had to have surgery on it, and a metal plate put in and I had to miss work for five weeks,” Whitley said.
Whitley was teaching fourth grade at the time, but in a matter of seconds, that was taken away from her and thousands of dollars worth of medical bills were piled onto her plate. Her grandparents were able to help her out with the cost of her surgery and recovery, but what couldn’t be replaced was the time she had to spend away from the kids she so loved teaching.
“Going back to work after five weeks was really hard because my kids, I mean, it was right at the beginning of the year, so it was really hard to get them back going where I wanted them to be because someone else had taught them for over a month,” Whitley said.
Whitley’s grandmother slowly nursed her back to health so she could return to work, but the accident temporarily robbed her of all of her independence.
“It was just a really hard time because I was stuck, immobile for five weeks, and my grandmother had to basically care for me like I was an infant,” she said. “I mean, I couldn’t move. I was so sore and I had cracked ribs and my arm thing and bruises everywhere, cuts, scrapes, I broke a tooth — just all kinds of crazy stuff.”
David Escobedo, White’s neighbor, has also witnessed many vehicles violently crash onto his property and some he’s responded to have been even more severe than what happened to Whitley. One time, both Escobedo and White rushed to help a young girl who broke both of her legs. Escobedo said that wreck stuck with him.
“There has been one time a girl, she came off the road and her little SUV flipped probably four or five times and she did get thrown out, and she was hanging on the fence post and we let her down and all that,” he said. “That stuck with us there for a while, just hearing the screams and all that.”
Both White and Escobedo help every person who crashes after hydroplaning, doing their best to aid them until emergency services arrive. Escobedo said he fears for the lives of those who crash, but he’s also gravely concerned about the other people who could get injured from an accident — his kids.
“I hate all these wrecks that happen. And who’s to say my kids are out there by the driveway, and something happens. That’d be terrible … we try to tell him not to go past a certain point, but still, cars go flying down the road,” Escobedo said.
After hearing about more accidents from White and seeing them on social media, Whitley got frustrated. She decided to report the issue to TxDOT and said an employee followed up with her, but accidents continued to happen. Several weeks ago when White saw another accident where a car nearly flipped and landed in the ditch by her house, she took matters into her own hands, just like Whitley. She got in touch with TxDOT and shared her story and she said she was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the agency responded to her concerns.
According to records, TxDOT has spent more than $300,000 over the past five years on the area of road, but White said a lot of that work didn’t repair the dangerous spot that seems to cause the multitude of accidents. But this time, a crew came out to work on the road Thursday, attempting to level the divet that holds water. TxDOT representative Tim McAlavy said the workers were resloping and patching the area to try and alleviate the problem. White said she has her fingers crossed that these repairs might work.
Thus far, there have been no fatalities White knows of, but she said the only thing stopping someone from dying there is that there hasn’t been an oncoming car when vehicles have careened off the road. The impact of two vehicles colliding at 65 miles per hour could be lethal. It’s miraculous to her it hasn’t happened yet. Whitley said she’s amazed she hasn’t heard of a fatality there, but that each time she passes by that stretch of road, she shudders and hopes to God nothing worse will happen there.
“Every time I drive by, I just say a prayer — oh Lord, please don’t let anybody lose their life here,” Whitley said.
After years of gruesome accidents, property damage and worries, the recent repairs could be the solution White, Escobedo, Whitley and Browning have been praying for. Only time will tell.
“The next time it rains — we’ll see,” White said.