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WWL: Learning from Tragedy
Where We Live - with John Dankosky
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In this episode:

Reacting and rebuilding after tragedy


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50:01 minutes (24.01 MB)
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*This episode originally aired on November 4, 2009.

In the summer of 2005, an out-of-control dump truck careened down Avon Mountain, resulting in a crash and fire that resulted in the death of five people.

After the crash, the state responded by changing rules for truck inspections and literally moving a mountain in an effort to make Route 44 safer. Today, where we live, a look at the aftermath of that accident and the lessons we've learned about how we react and rebuild after tragedy. Mark Robinson, author of Smoke, Fire and Angels: Tragedy on Avon Mountain and the Life-Changing Aftermath, joins us in-studio to talk about his book.

We’ll also talk to Tom Condon of The Hartford Courant – about what this accident can teach us about how we react and rebuild after tragedy in Connecticut. And, get a status update from the DOT on the ongoing, massive changes to a very dangerous roadway.


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Preventative Road Construction

After listening to today's program, traveling the west side of Route 44 on Avon Mountain once or twice a week, and having lived in Colorado for ten years, I question the CT DOT's solutions as they evolve.

Although we've been told by "experts" that an truck similar to the one that lost its brakes and fully loaded would be stopped by the one runaway truck ramp, I'm reluctant to make reservations at Avon Old Farms' Forge Room just below the end of the ramp.

A driver would realize that the truck had no brakes just after the widened curve after Deercliff Road. Wouldn't it make more sense to have a runaway truck ramp at the end of the first long straight stretch just before the second curve. There are no houses at this point and a simple ramp with an inordinately thick layer of peastone(like runaway truck ramps in Colorado) would be sufficient.

This would be a good alternative before the truck gains even more speed after this point. If the traffic is backed up at the light by Avon Old Farms or if the high rate of speed makes entering the one ramp impossible, the same horror might happen again.

Short of a tunnel, an intermediate ramp would seem to be a very good idea to avoid another tragedy.

Listener email from Steven

What about regional planning? The infrastructure to support continued residential growth west of the mountain  isn't there. Rt 4 and rt 44 cannot sustain the pace of growth put here. Condon should comment.

Listener email from Patti

I have traveled to the Italian Alps several times and the use of tunnels are extensive there. Was a tunnel discussed as an alternative for commuter traffic?

Avon Mountain Tunnel

This is an excerpt of an e-mail I sent to Loretta Waldman of the Courant, some months ago:

With the onset of winter weather, my wife’s commute over Avon Mountain has bubbled up in our awareness, and reminded us of how foolish it is to continue business as usual on Avon Mountain.

During winter storms, it is impossible to keep the existing road safe.
With all the focus on infrastructure projects as an economic stimulus, it would make sense to revisit the Avon Mountain Tunnel plans that were cancelled by Governor Meskill in 1973.  The Swiss have set a great example by rerouting many of their dangerous, formerly heavily travelled mountain roads through safe tunnels under the mountains.
We should do the same with Route 44 at Avon Mountain.
This website has some interesting history on the historical plans for roads in our area:  http://www.kurumi.com/roads/ct/us44.html.

Listener Email from Alyssa

Tom Condon is way too smart and too thoughtful to let him gloss over the legislature's responsibility on two issues:

1) The earlier issue mentioned about the loophole for commercial trucking companies -- no doubt achieved by some special interest lobbyist. This is grist for newspapers and investigative journalists, i.e. how such exceptions ruin good statutes designed to protect residents.

2) Legislative or state department override of local zoning boards, i.e. stop local approvals of private business and housing developments that will clog local and state roads and increase safety hazards, IF the capacity isn't there and the town (and/or state) hasn't got the funds to re-do roadways contemporaneously with the the development.

Avon MT Tragedy

 Thank you for taking my call on air earlier. I asked why there are passing lanes on Route 44, especially on that hill. I suggested a separate trucking route as a possible solution. I neglected to add that my husband and our twin daughterss were involved in a car accident on Route 44 a few years ago. We were driving the girls to the Hartford bus station for their return trip to their lives in Boston. A car pulled out of one of the restaurants along 44 and drove at a high speed into the side of our passing car. The impact drove us sideways into the path of the oncoming cars. Fortunately, the oncoming traffic was able to avoid hitting us again. Our Subaru wagon was totalled, our airbags were deployed, we were bruised and banged up, but survived, I believe, because there were only cars on the road at that time. If we had been pushed into the path of a truck it would have been all over for us. I believe the disparity between the size of the vehicles allowed on that busy road contributes greatly to the number and severity of the accidents there. I asked on the air today what the average citizen can do to report unsafe roadways and intersections. As I said we lived for 18 years on a dangerous intersection of Route 202 in New Preston. We were the first responders to countless accidents in front of our home over the years. I administered first aid to many people. I wrote to the CT State Police and asked that a yellow blinker be installed in front of our property to warn drivers that they were approaching a stop light. I received a letter back that, after a review of the countless accidents at the intersection, that a light would not be installed because "the body count" at our intersection was not high enough" at our corner. Maybe we need to have some Town Hall style meetings in CT where the subject is the safety of our roads from the perspective of the citizens who actually drive on them.

Thanks for your show today - it really got me thinking. When the accident occurred on Avon MT. most people had not yet begun talking on cellphones and texting in their vehicles. Add that to the mix and the potential for another tragedy is increased exponentially.

Thanks again for taking my call and your excellent show,




Thanks again, Jennifer Almquist


smoke fire and angels

Tom Condon is too kind to our state leaders when he suggests that it's easy to look back in hindsight and question that loophole that allowed Wilcox to continue to operate with dangerous equipment and even to be rewarded with state business in the face of all those violations. Why do we elect legislators - as we did yesterday - if not to have FORESIGHT - so the rest of us will not be left shaking our heads at tragedies of this sort