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A year later, no traffic signal at scene of fatal wreck

BRANDON — More than a year after her death, ribbons on a white cross planted for Sheila Creel still flutter in the wind.

Drivers still lurch into the expansive intersection of Providence Lakes Boulevard and Gornto Lake Road, trying to get across several lanes when there's a break in traffic. Housing complexes sit at every corner.

Stop signs read, "Caution: Cross traffic does not stop." But, still, there is no traffic light.

Last year, officials said one would be installed this summer. Now a light is expected by December.

"The design side of the project is 100 percent done," said County Commissioner Al Higginbotham. "And we've got final construction plans. I've been told, barring any unforeseen problems, such as hurricanes or other natural disaster that might preempt completion, we will have it up in December of this year."

In January 2006, an engineer's study concluded that the intersection met the minimum criteria for a traffic light. That October, county officials asked a developer to begin design work.

By September 2007, a month after Creel was killed when her Mazda plunged into a pond at the intersection, the design was more than halfway done. At the time, Richard Mulholland, developer of a nearby housing development, was thought to be responsible for the signal.

But after further review by his lawyers and county officials, it was determined that he wasn't required to pay for the signal. Taxpayers will instead pay for the estimated $400,000 light.

That discovery prompted Mulholland to drop the design process, which later had to be picked up by the county.

"It was a misunderstanding with their engineer, not with the county per se," explained Bob Campbell, the county's transportation director.

During 2007, the most current statistics available, about 6,500 vehicles a day traveled on Providence Lakes Boulevard. About 11,900 used Gornto Lake Road.

In the past year, there have been 33 crashes at the intersection and no deaths, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. During the previous two years, 48 accidents were reported. Three involved incapacitating injuries.

For Elaine Payne, Sheila Creel's sister, the light can't go up fast enough. There isn't a day that goes by that the Plant City resident doesn't think about her younger sibling.

Just a few weeks ago, family and friends gathered at the site where the accident took place. It took more than 20 minutes for rescuers to pull Creel, 46, out of the water. Sheriff's investigators determined that she ran a stop sign.

She died later that night at Brandon Regional Hospital.

Payne keeps her sister's pictures in the car and all over the house. They talked every day on the phone. The day she died, they spoke before Creel headed out to run a few errands. Her family believes she used to the road as a shortcut.

Creel left behind a daughter and husband.

"What are our tax dollars for? What's it going to take?" Payne asked. "It's almost there's a certain number of people who have to get hurt or die before they'll put in a light."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com, or 661-2454.

A year later, no traffic signal at scene of fatal wreck 09/25/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 1, 2008 2:52pm]
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