ELKHART — The view out back will lull you to sleep.
The St. Joseph River slowly meanders.
Geese, far enough away not to be annoying, sun on the bank of the waterway.
Lush greenery sways in the wind.
The problem is out front. The doorway of the small home at 22341 S.R. 120 sits perhaps 25 feet from the busy roadway, also known as Jackson Boulevard. Compounding things, S.R. 120 bends just east of the house, located between Middleton Run Road and C.R. 17, east of the Elkhart city limits.
The end result has been years of on-and-off hassles and anxiety for Maria Lang, her husband Jerry and their two kids, who moved in the home in early 2008. Cars sometimes take the bend a bit too quickly, hurtling down a nearby embankment instead or, worse, hitting their parked cars.
Things took a more ominous turn Wednesday, June 11, when an auto left S.R. 120 and hit one of the Lang’s parked cars, shoving the auto into the front door of the home. Now, Maria Lang is at her wit’s end.
"It’s been scary and nerve-wracking,“ she said.
Lacking resources to move from the rental, at least for now, she’s got a message for those who use S.R. 120 — slow down! Be careful!
Fortunately, no one was home when Wednesday’s crash occurred. But it took a toll — destroying the entryway to the home and leaving glass and splintered wood spread throughout the living room. The couch her husband has used to rest from recent open-heart surgery was left littered with wood debris. She shudders at what could have been had he been there when the crash occurred.
"They said they can’t put up a guardrail until there’s a death,” she said, alluding to prior responses from roads officials to the family’s calls for increased safety measures at the spot. “Well this could’ve been my husband’s death.”
NEW SIGNAGE COMING (BUT NOT GUARDRAILS)
Indiana Department of Transportation officials are aware of concerns in the zone, dotted with other homes clustered closely to the roadway in spots. Traffic sometimes zooms along S.R. 120, which parallels the St. Joseph River, and the roadway around the Lang home is characterized by two successive bends.
Laurel McCurdy, an INDOT spokeswoman, said Friday that the agency plans to install new signs on the eastbound and westbound approaches to the section that more clearly reflect the geometry of the curves, better to warn motorists. Moreover, new yellow signs with big black arrows are to be placed right at the curvy spots as an added warning to keep motorists pointed in the right direction.
On the other hand, though, an earlier INDOT study found reports of only three crashes in the section between 2007 and 2011, McCurdy noted. The vehicles in the accidents, according to the reports, were going too fast for the slick conditions at the time, she said.
McCurdy didn’t speak to the notion of a guardrail at the curve near the Lang home. Other INDOT officials more versed in the particulars of the location were not available for comment Friday.
The Langs, though, like that idea, as does the owner of the home, David Fore, who also received a negative response when he put the notion to INDOT. “..They wait till there’s a few fatalities and then put up a new sign or this or that,” Fore said somewhat ruefully.
He’s been told he can’t place any sort of fence in state-owned right-of-way, Fore said. But that’s not necessarily stopping him. After repairing the home from the most recent damage, he’s considering installing heavy concrete barriers on his side of the state-owned strip of land adjacent to S.R. 120 to protect the structure.
’JUST KEEPS HAPPENING’
The Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department report for Wednesday’s incident shows that Elkhart man Oscar Cuatepotzo-Granillo — Driver 1 or D1 in the document — was westbound on S.R. 120 when he left the roadway and hit a Lang vehicle and a grill, leading to the home damage.
"D1 stated that he could not remember what happened,“ says the report. Nonetheless, Cuatepotzo-Granillo was cited — for driving without a license and driving without insurance, according to the report.
Sheriff’s Department Capt. Jim Bradberry culled recent department records, finding eight reports of autos running off S.R. 120 or similar incidents in the general area of the Lang home dating just to Nov. 23, 2013.
Maria Lang estimates about seven incidents per year around her home, usually just cars running off the roadway into the yard. She suspects no end and just hopes things don’t get worse.
"It just keeps happening and happening and happening,” she said.