1. Archive

Life speeds along for U.S. 301 drivers

Cars hurtled toward each other at 60 mph Thursday, fender whistling past fender with only inches to spare.

But that's just business as usual on the 12-mile stretch of U.S. 301 where a Wesley Chapel man died in a head-on collision Wednesday. With both vehicles traveling 60 mph, they collided with 120 mph force.

Most of the time, drivers stay in their lanes, kept apart by nothing more than yellow lines and a sense of self-preservation. When they don't, there's nowhere for an oncoming driver to go.

In Wednesday's wreck, Florida Highway Patrol reported, Richard J. Bremru, 65, of 26646 Players Circle, Apt. 4, apparently fell asleep at the wheel of his 1997 full-size Ford van and drifted into oncoming traffic near the Zephyrhills Correctional Institution. He was killed when he crashed head-on into a 1999 Peterbilt truck driven by LaVerne A. Wilder, 54, of Zephyrhills.

The crash clogged traffic for hours because there is no paved shoulder and no lanes to bypass the wreckage. Witnesses said Wilder looked as if he was trying everything he could do to get out of Bremru's way, but with nothing but a steep embankment along the road, he had no place to swerve.

Those who drive the two-lane blacktop from Thonotosassa to Zephyrhills say U.S. 301 is a road they'd rather leave less traveled.

There are no paved shoulders, no passing lanes, no lane dividers, no traffic lights, few street lights and no service stations in the 12 miles from Chancey Road to the outskirts of Tampa. A hodgepodge of gravel trucks, 18-wheelers, commuters and retirees cruise the stretch, some below and many above the posted 60 mph speed limit.

Passing is a thrill. As vehicles pull into the opposite lane for a high-speed dash to the front of the pack, oncoming drivers get an eyeful of grill closing the gap.

"It's just a dangerous road," said Tampa resident Johnny Lambert. "I don't use it unless I absolutely have to."

"It's got to be wider," said Robert Parks of Zephyrhills. "The big thing is passing. They come straight at you, doesn't matter how much room. I've actually had to hit the brakes to keep someone from hitting me in my lane."

County plans don't show any cure in the works, as money is diverted toward other, more congested areas. But those who drive the road say even small changes could make it a bit safer.

"It's just that there's nothing, absolutely nothing, to slow people down," Lambert's wife, Annette, said. "There's no traffic lights, no intersections, nothing. Those big trucks just get rolling, and they don't have to slow down for anything."

Not everyone, however, wants the road changed. For Tampa residents Robert and Mary Hill, enjoying a picnic at a park along the route, the road is a fine alternative to superhighways.

"People don't realize, you make this four lanes, and more people will use it," Robert Hill said. "It'll just be another interstate."

In addition to Bremru, three other men were injured in Wednesday's crash.

A passenger in Bremru's van, Martin Ferguson, 55, of Zephyrhills, was the most seriously injured. He remained in St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa on Thursday in fair condition. Another passenger, Ocie Lee Walker, 65, of Zephyrhills, was treated and released at East Pasco Medical Center. Wilder also was treated at East Pasco.

FHP recorded 62 accidents resulting in 70 deaths on Pasco County roads in 1998.