Two other people have died — in addition to the four Mainland Regional High School football players — between Garden State Parkway mileposts 37 and 40, over the past five years, according to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.
Saturday’s accident involving the high school students happened when their vehicle crested a high-arcing bridge over Delilah Road and found bumper-to-bumper traffic southbound to Cape May County points. The driver lost control of the SUV as he braked, and the vehicle rolled multiple times.
The Turnpike Authority, which operates the parkway, has been planning for years to expand the roadway there and alleviate the summer bumper-to-bumper congestion, but that fix is still years away.
Turnpike Authority spokesman Tom Feeney said widening the road is supposed to shorten backups such as those at the expressway and parkway cloverleaf interchange, not only to save people time but also to make the road safer.
“I know anecdotally that it’s a traffic hazard,” Feeney said. “It’s a danger for drivers. You have to pay careful attention to see if traffic is backed up ahead of you.”
Feeney said the authority could not provide a list of all accidents in that area over the last five years, but in August 2007 a car was traveling south on the parkway “at a high rate of speed,” swerved onto the right shoulder to avoid a sudden traffic backup near milepost 39 and crashed into a car on the shoulder, killing a female passenger, an authority report states.
The other fatal accident in that area occurred in 2006 when a motorcyclists’ tire blew out, causing the driver to lose control of the motorcycle, throwing the driver and passenger from the cycle. The driver was killed; the passenger survived. No other details were available about the crash.
The authority plans to finalize contracts for the next phase of parkway expansion between mileposts 48 and 63 this fall, with construction to begin in the first half of 2012. That second phase will include drainage work between mileposts 30 and 48. The third phase of the roadway expansion through that length is not funded yet, so no schedule has been set.
The Mainland students were heading to a team brunch at the Old Country Buffet in Mays Landing when they missed their exit. Instead of turning around at one of the illegal U-turn spots, as people often will, driver Casey Brenner, 17, of Northfield, drove down to the rest area and turned around legally.
Jim Garth Sr., who was on the scene that day as part of the Farmington Volunteer Fire Company, thinks the accident could have been avoided.
“It wouldn’t have happened if the Turnpike Authority (had already) put three lanes down here,” Garth said.
“That’s true,” Farmington Volunteer Fire Chief Leonard Tilley, 51, said. “If that lane would have been there, I don’t think that would have ever occurred.”
Also killed were Edgar Bozzi, 17, of Somers Point; Dean Khoury, 15, of Linwood, and Nicholas Conner, 16, of Northfield.
Staff writer Lynda Cohen contributed to this report.
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