Neighbors Work to End Speeding after Fatal Wreck Takes Infant's Life

By: Deon Guillory Email
By: Deon Guillory Email

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va -- A 16-year-old boy is accused of losing control of his SUV, hitting seven people at a bus stop and killing an infant. This happened in the Belmont Estates neighborhood.

The speed limit in the Belmont Estates neighborhood is 25 mph and neighbors told a WHSV reporter that speeding is a problem. One man is on a crusade to get people to pump their brakes, in an effort to save lives.

According to an unofficial Facebook page, Belmont Estates is the largest neighborhood on the west side of Harrisonburg. The average house sells for $270,000. Belmont is known for wide streets, friendly neighbors and stunning western views. There is a small community-maintained park in the center of the subdivision with a basketball court and a picnic area, but there is also a danger here.

"This area has some problems with speed on this road, indeed," said Lisa Kemp, who lives in the neighborhood.

Kemp was talking about Nutmeg Ct. Back on the morning of Aug 31, the Rockingham County Sheriff's Office said a 16-year-old boy lost control of his SUV and ran into a group of seven people.

Kate Beagle, an infant who was just 19-months-old was in her stroller. She passed away as a result of the accident.

A makeshift memorial marks the spot where the accident happened, reminding neighbors of that tragic day.

"I think a lot of people are paying a lot more attention to the speed they're driving."

Vilas Steckly is the president of the Belmont Civic Association and he said the accident has bonded neighbors into a closer community than they were.

"There's a fair bit of anxiety and a whole lot of remorse," said Steckly.

Steckly is trying to get people to watch their speed.

"It was an accident. That's why they call them that, but it still doesn't necessarily allow us to throw up our hands and do absolutely nothing...We are trying to do the things that would perhaps, bring about the best result, which would be slowing down."

So with speed being a concern in this neighborhood, a WHSV reporter decided to come back to the scene of the accident, with a speed gun, to see if speed was still an issue.

One by one, the cars clocked with the radar gun, would come in below the posted 25 mph speed limit.

Although the reporter was unable to catch speeders through the unscientific experiment, the Rockingham County Sheriff's Office put up a radar trailer. The two-wheeled cart has a screen that flashes your speed as you drive past it. Steckly said the plan is to have it set up in different parts of the subdivision at different times to serve as something like a roaming speed warning.

"It has been a wake up call on many different fronts."

The people of Belmont are hoping the Virginia Department of Transportation will answer that call. The agency is performing a study on the neighborhood. The results were expected at the monthly county board of supervisors meeting, but that didn't happen, leaving Belmont neighbors, like Dusty Williamson, upset.

“There's too many people in this neighborhood,” said Williamson. “It's a good, close community that enjoys being outside. We walk the street a lot. We have to be able to walk
out the front door and not worry about this."

Steckly said that mo matter what the report says, the results would impact the Belmont Estates.

“I was hoping we would have some sort of report, either positive or negative,” said Steckly. “If it was negative, we could have actually done something to correct it. If it was positive, hey, that would have been wonderful."

Don Komara works with VDOT and he explained what happened.

"I told the board, I hoped to have it for this board meeting and it wasn't quite finished,” said Komara.

He said a lot of work goes into these studies and the independent firm behind it just couldn't have everything ready for November's board of supervisor's meeting.

"I was really hoping that we would have it. I wish the people would have contacted me. We knew it wasn't gonna be ready.”

Komara said there is a strong chance the report will be ready next month.

"I'm very confident. I would say, 80, 90 percent."

Until then, the people of Belmont Estates can only wait and hope for the best during the Thanksgiving holiday.

"We are not going to stop," said Steckly.

That next meeting is Dec 19th and WHSV will have a reporter there.

VDOT wants people to call its office ahead of the meeting to see if the study will be ready. You can do that by dialing 540-434-2586.


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