By Ed Brock
For the second time in less than two years the stretch of Ga. Highway 54 just north of Jonesboro has claimed a life.
Those who live and work along Highway 54 between Battle Creek Road and Ga. Highway 138 said they were not surprised by the accident in which 62-year-old Zelma Thompson was killed around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.
"I've called 911 I don't know how many times," said Shirley Foster, an employee at GE Supply who called 911 again to report Wednesday's accident.
Thompson was a passenger in a Honda driven by her husband, 66-year-old Franklin Thompson, who was going south on Highway 54 when Matthew Weldon Todd, 19, pulled out in front of them, Clayton County police Capt. Jeff Turner said. Todd was turning north from the driveway of South Lake Cove Apartments.
"He looked to his right but not to his left," Turner said.
Todd has been charged with failure to yield when entering a roadway and second-degree vehicular homicide.
The impact was hard enough to spin Todd's SUV and the Thompson's Honda around so they came to rest facing in opposite directions from their original direction of travel. Franklin Thompson was taken to Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale for treatment.
Todd had spent the night with his mother, a resident of Southlake Cove Apartments, said Melissa Hewell, one of the managers at Southlake Cove. After a tearful Matthew Todd was placed under arrest and put into a patrol car his mother Debbie Todd collapsed to the ground and Hewell and others comforted her.
Hewell said that the complex had asked authorities several times to do something about making the driveway safer by installing a traffic signal or extending the turn lane that ends a few yards to the north.
"They said there haven't been enough accidents to warrant it," Hewell said but did not specify what agency they had spoken to.
There isn't enough traffic coming from the Southlake Cove driveway to satisfy federal guidelines for installing a light, Clayton County Transportation and Development Director Wayne Patterson said.
"There are so few vehicles that come out of it that it could never meet the federal warrants," Patterson said.
Adding a light would be up to the state Department of Transportation, Patterson said, although the county would maintain it. GDOT has not received any requests for a light at that intersection, GDOT spokesman Mark McKinnon said.
One other solution may be to make the driveway "right turn in, right turn out only," Patterson said.
McKinnon said that would be the last option because it would be very inconvenient for the occupants and may cause more problems as people leaving and entering the apartment complex perform U-turns on Highway 54.
In April 2002, 31-year-old Gueva Ross and a 7-year-old girl in her car were killed when Ross crossed into oncoming traffic some 200 feet from where she could have made a left turn into the Southlake Cove driveway. At the time of the accident police were not certain if that was the maneuver she was attempting to make.