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Homeowners upset over multiple accidents on Todd Road turn


The 90-degree turn on Todd Road at Powers Road near Sebastopol has been the site of so many auto accidents most residents have been unable to keep an exact count.

But after back-to-back crashes last week, including one that launched a vehicle some 50 yards onto residential property, one homeowner is mounting a crusade to get help.

"The county needs to do something to make that curve safer," said Robin Russell, whose broken fence attests to the battering her family's property has taken. "It's all on us now to make something happen."

Russell, her husband, Devin, and their two children live on Powers Road, a narrow lane that extends southward from the vertex of a right angle made by the turn in Todd Road where it shifts from a north-south to an east-west alignment.

The Russells' elongated yard is usually on the receiving end of the southbound vehicles that lose control and miss the turn.

Seven vehicles have landed on their property in the two years they have lived there, according to Robin Russell, including the two crashes last week 30 hours apart.

A beat-up road sign at the edge marked "20" with a 90-degree arrow stands in the path of those wayward vehicles, near the Russells' broken fence. It looks as if it's been knocked down and repaired more than once.

The first of last week's crashes occurred around 9:15 p.m. Tuesday, June 3, when an SUV went airborne and landed on its roof about 165 feet off the road, near the play area for Russell's daughter.

The next crash came Thursday morning, June 5, shortly before 3:30 a.m. The vehicle came to a stop just off the road.

The CHP arrested drivers in both cases for suspected drunken driving, Officer Jon Sloat said. Neither was injured.

Accidents also are common in the eastbound direction, where 12-year residents Judy and Roger Robinson bear the brunt.

Roger Robinson said a drainage ditch installed a few years ago at the front of their lawn along the edge of Todd Road seems to have helped.

"I was afraid they were going to come right into our house" before that, he said.

"We've had our mailboxes wiped out twice," Judy Robinson said.

"People just don't slow down," said another neighbor, Elizabeth Rodriguez.

While the hazards of the corner are well-known to neighbors, they're not as familiar to public agency officials, whose records only include the most serious incidents.

Sloat said it's common for there to be no accident report if there's just one vehicle involved and no one is hurt. He said going back three years, the CHP has just one crash recorded, in 2011, before those that occurred last week.

The county's collision history has a record of eight crashes going back 20 years, a rate that's apparently not drawn much attention from county staffers, said Jason Nutt, Sonoma County's deputy director of public works in charge of transportation operations.

Nutt, like neighbors, also noted that accidents there seem to involve speeding, impaired driving or both, and thus result from the choices drivers make, not the road's configuration.

The county already has signage in both directions alerting motorists to the turn coming up and to the need to slow down.

Both Nutt and his counterpart, Tom O'Kane, deputy director in charge of road operations, said the county would be willing to take another look at the intersection given neighbors' concern, although just what changes they could or would make is uncertain.

Todd Road is a collector street, with high enough trip volumes that some traffic calming measures, like speed bumps, aren't appropriate, O'Kane said.

He said guardrails, as some neighbors have suggested, are only "marginally effective," and could well cause more injuries than they prevent.

"We'll get those two (recent) accident reports, and we'll do an analysis, and if there's something we don't have out there that we could put out there that would let people know that the curve is coming up, we'll consider that," O'Kane said.

In the meantime, the Russells have given up on rebuilding their fence, and will exercise care to keep their own family out of harm's way.

"Someone's going to end up dying," Robin Russell said, "and they're going to end up dying on my property."

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.