Linn County Intersection Will Get Stop Signs After Second Deadly Crash

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

LINN COUNTY, Iowa- The crash Wednesday afternoon that claimed the life of a 20-year-old man in northern Linn County is not the first deadly accident at that isolated intersection. In fact, a similar accident barely 15 months ago also took the life of a 44-year-old Central City woman in July of 2012. And all this happened at an intersection that probably sees fewer than 100 cars per day combined.

Linn County authorities say Nicholas Aberle, 20, of Troy Mills was heading south on Hills Mill Road when his passenger vehicle struck a fertilizer spreader being driven by Steven Oberreuter, 56, of Manchester. Oberreuter was heading west on Upper Boulder Road at the time. Aberle died in the accident and Oberreuter was airlifted to St. Luke's Hospital with what authorities described as non-life threatening injuries. Authorities say the accident remains under investigation.

However, to people living in that rural stretch of northern Linn County the circumstances are eerily familiar. In July of 2012 Margaret Holub also died in a wreck with a truck at the very same intersection. Neighbors say the vehicles that collided in both deadly crashes were all traveling the same direction—south on Hills Mill Road and west on Upper Boulder.

Brent Oleson, Linn County Supervisor, said there are probably 400 plus intersections in the entire county that are currently uncontrolled. That is, having neither a yield or stop sign for any direction. It's also common to have uncontrolled intersections at residential intersections in parts of cities. But Oleson said after this second deadly accident in little more than a year he has put a resolution on the county's agenda for Monday to install stop signs for drivers heading east and west on Upper Boulder Road. Assuming other supervisors approve the change, the stop signs could go up as soon as late next week.

Oleson said after the first deadly accident county road supervisors surveyed the intersection to see if some type of traffic control was warranted. The decision at that time was stop signs weren't advisable because the intersection didn't meet either the engineering or safety criteria for installing traffic controls. Prior to the accident in July of 2012, road supervisors couldn't find another accident at that intersection in the previous 12 years.

However, Oleson said the second deadly crash changes things and he expects fellow supervisors to approve the new stop signs for east-west traffic on Upper Boulder Road. Although he noted stop signs might not prevent all accidents.

"I've seen plenty of situations where people are barreling down a country road and blow through a stop sign. So even that...doesn't necessarily correlate into preventing accidents."

Oleson surveyed the intersection personally on Thursday and said it was obvious that tall corn combined with a hill on Mills Hill Road combined to make visibility limited on one corner.

Several neighbors said they thought stop signs were necessary after the first accident.

John Burke, who lives on Upper Boulder Road, said "one accident is too many as far as I'm concerned."

His neighbor, Sharon Pfab added "when we saw this (latest accident) we though why doesn't someone put a stop sign there already so they know they have to stop?"

The supervisor noted that legally, drivers approaching an uncontrolled intersection are supposed to yield right-of-way to oncoming traffic. But in practice, many drivers aren't quite sure who has to stop when no one has a yield or stop sign. Oleson said the cost of stop signs is a few hundred dollars per intersection. But the reason many hundred remain uncontrolled in the county is for engineering reasons, not cost.
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