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New traffic light isn't helping, residents say

(ran PW, PS editions)

The traffic light at Old County Road 54 and State Road 54 was supposed to solve safety problems that were blamed for the deaths of four people in a horrendous crash two years ago.

But now nearby residents say the traffic light is the safety problem.

They want the state to change the light on SR 54 so that eastbound traffic turning left onto Old CR 54 can do so only with an arrow.

"Something has got to be done before more people are killed," F. Ivan Jackson of Park Lake Estates told county transportation planners and state officials at a meeting Thursday.

That something should be a red arrow that forbids motorists from turning left when the rest of the eastbound traffic has a green light. Residents fear a deadly collision should elderly and slow drivers turning left be hit by speeders heading west on SR 54.

Upon the urging of Jackson, two other residents and a petition with more than 200 signatures, the Metropolitan Planning Organization voted at the meeting to send a letter to the state Department of Transportation asking for a red arrow.

"This intersection is begging for something to happen to fix it up," County Commissioner and MPO member Ann Hildebrand said. "People are darting across that road, and it's like playing chicken."

Residents had sent a letter asking for an arrow to the DOT district secretary, who responded that the small number of accidents at the intersection since the traffic light was installed did not warrant a change.

But during the MPO meeting, DOT planner Robert Clifford said he would look into it.

Four people died in the crash on March 2, 2001.

Killed were 14-year-old Anthony Zorbas, his 10-year-old brother Robert and their 4-year-old friend, Deziree Pozzi. The children were passengers in a 1986 Plymouth Caravelle driven by the boys' mother. They were heading west on SR 54 when an eastbound Chevrolet Camaro veered across the median and struck the Plymouth, authorities said.

The crash also killed a passenger in the Camaro, Ann Marie Demerie. Her husband, Nicholas Demerie, is awaiting trial on four counts of vehicular homicide. Authorities say he was racing another car and traveling 86 mph when he lost control and veered into oncoming traffic near Old CR 54.