1 dead, 1 critical in crash
Neighbors say that stretch of roadway is a death trap

COVINGTON - One man is dead and a woman remains in critical condition following a head-on collision about 2:45 p.m. Wednesday, according to the Georgia State Patrol.

Trooper S. Browder of Conyers Post 46 said a 2006 Honda was heading south on Lower River Road and the female driver locked her brakes as she went into a curve, veering into the oncoming lane and striking a 1985 Chevrolet Suburban head-on.

"It instantly kills him and she had to be extricated and was taken by Rescue Air to Grady (Memorial Hospital) where they said she had critical injuries," Browder said.

Dead is 67-year-old Larry Marchesseau of Newton County, according to Coroner Tommy Davis. The driver of the Honda is a 39-year-old Newton County woman.

Browder estimated it took about an hour for rescuers to extricate the woman.

"Everything in that car was pinned on top of her," he said.

He said further investigation would determine exactly how fast the driver of the Honda was going, but he felt like the outcome would indicate that speed was a factor in the crash.

"The speed limit through there is 40 mph, and indications are she was going above the posted speed limit," he said.

Toxicology results and a determination on charges are pending, he said, adding that further investigation into the crash has been turned over to the GSP Specialized Collision Reconstruction Team.

Browder said Wednesday's fatality occurred about 20 yards north of the last fatality the GSP worked there little more than a year ago. And there have been others over the years.

Neighbors in the area are saddened, but not surprised, that another fatal crash has occurred along that particular strip of Lower River Road. A cross marks the spot where a 27-year-old father of two was killed when a woman who lived in the same subdivision he lived in crashed into him.

"She drove completely over his car," recalled Kelly Canoles, who lives at 1339 Lower River Road and fears for the life of anyone who travels the two-lane road. She said a particularly treacherous curve and a hill are the culprits.

"The way the road is graded, there's a slant that puts you into the other lane. If you have any kind of speed, it throws you over the yellow line and then you go into a sharp right curve," she explained. The result is if a driver meets a car coming in the opposite direction, there is no time to get out of the way.

The Canoles family has a teenage son, and Robert Canoles said he has held back on letting him drive because of the danger in his own front yard.

"Two weeks ago, a little boy ran his mom's car through our neighbor's fence," he said, adding that was not an unusual occurrence.

Mrs. Canoles said most motorists are traveling in excess of the 40 mph speed limit when they pass through the area and you can stand in her driveway and watch as the cars speed by and see that they are on the wrong side of the road.

"When I leave my driveway, I stay as far as I can to the right to have time to react ... but within a half second somebody could be coming at you ... " she said. "Everybody I know and love who leaves my house, I tell them to be careful, and that's not right to have to worry like that."

The Canoles say the road is used as a shortcut to miss Porterdale's infamous intersection of Ga. highways 81 and 162. "Also, if you're on 36, you can come up Moores (Road) and Lower River and cut over to 162," Mrs. Canoles said. "There's school buses that use this as a cut-through. Every morning I see 20-plus buses, so you figure that's 40 trips a day with a lot of kids, no seat belts, and that awful hill."

Neighbor Harold Esslinger was the first person on the scene at Wednesday's crash and said through the years, he's witnessed multiple accidents at the site.

"The guy was killed instantly. The lady was in terrible shape. I called 911," he said. "I don't know how many have been Lifeflighted out of here in the last 22 years. They come through my fence, hit trees; some are drunk, some are not paying attention, speeding," he said. "It's one of the most dangerous roads in the county, but nobody seems to do anything."

The residents say they have appealed to the Sheriff's Office, but it appears to them the speeding is unabated.

"We've gotten the complaints and we have had more traffic units in the area," said Newton County Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Mark Mitchell. "Some areas are just more viable to run radar than others."

Mitchell explained that county traffic units must be visible from 500 feet before deputies can write citations and the laser or radar devices must have a clear field to pace the driver. The terrain on Lower River Road does not easily lend itself to those two requirements.

"But, just being visible by patrolling the area is itself a deterrent," he pointed out.

Esslinger says huge tractor-trailers and garbage trucks going to the landfill use the road.

"They've got a state highway they could run on. They don't need to be on this road running 45 to 50 mph," he said.

And that's not taking into account the dump trucks, cement trucks, even the ambulance that spun around in the road trying to take a heart patient to the hospital, nor the firetruck that came over the hill, couldn't stop and wrecked.

"This is a dangerous spot and people don't seem to realize it. I hope that lady from yesterday makes it," he said.

Esslinger and the Canoles say they are going to petition the county and law enforcement to do something to slow people down who travel that stretch of roadway.

Barbara Knowles can be reached at barbara.knowles@newtoncitizen.com