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Monday, May 2, 2016

Webb, town, county officials try to slow traffic

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Webb School student prepares to cross busy Highway 82 on campus. Officials are working to slow traffic and increase student safety.
(T-G Photo by Brian Mosely)
In August 1981, 13-year-old Lisa Bennett was crossing Highway 82 in front of Webb School in Bell Buckle to visit her mother, who works at the boarding school.

Lisa never made it. She was struck by a car and died of her injuries the next day. The school, the Town of Bell Buckle and county law enforcement want to prevent a reoccurrence.

That's why they are working together to address traffic issues, particularly on the Webb School campus, where 299 students and 100 faculty and staff cross Highway 82 several times a day.

A specially requested speed study conducted by the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) over two days in January revealed that 76.9 percent of the traffic moving through the campus exceeded the 15 mph speed limit.

Out of 1,459 vehicles counted by TDOT, one was observed going between 76-80 mph, one between 66-70, one between 56-60, four vehicles between 51-55 and six between 46-50 mph.

The speed limit for the highway in Bell Buckle, also known as Webb Road, is 25 mph, but inside the boarding school campus, it's 15 mph, and not just in the mornings or afternoons -- but 24 hours a day.

Headmaster Albert Cauz said students cross the road five times a day in various places to attend classes, chapel, the cafeteria and the gym, to just name a few.

"It only takes one car to create a tragedy," Cauz said. "High speeds and adolescents don't mix."

Cauz said it's very easy to determine where the campus begins and ends, with flashing warning lights, signs and large stone markers at both entrances. The headmaster said they've seen a lot of different reasons for the speeding.

"Some people, out of their twisted principle, speed because it's Webb School, an elite school, and they don't want to slow down. I've also seen people who never think it will happen to them," Cauz said. "That's the problem with tragedies, you think you have everything under control and then suddenly, you have blood on your hands."

Since Webb is a boarding school, children frequently cross the road at night returning from the library to their dorms, and many people are under the impression that the campus is a day school, Cauz explained. "It's an open, college-like campus; there's a constant flow."

Harold and Mary Bennett know first-hand of what can happen on the campus when someone speeds through. After 26 years, the pain of Lisa's death is still fresh.

"I'd hate for this to happen to somebody else because its a tragedy that you never forget," Mary said. Even today, Lisa's sister Chrissy, who is two years younger, still has a hard time with what happened, Mary said.

"It impacts the whole family and actually the community too. They just need to slow down."

Harold Bennett said the problem is that, most of the time, people who live nearby become familiar with the area and it becomes a habit to raise their speed in their hurry to get home.

"They lose awareness that a child can come up a bank anywhere on this road to cross. At 15 mph, you can stop, but at 20 and on up, you are not going to be able to react quick enough," Harold said.

While Bell Buckle does not have a police officer on staff, the town has been looking at the speed issue and how to deal with it. Mayor Dennis Webb said there is a definite safety issue with the highway traffic and no way to go around Bell Buckle.

"The town is worried about safety, more than anything else. We're not looking at measures to fine people or generate revenues. Webb School is vital to Bell Buckle. It is part of our history. We just want people to slow it down a notch."

Sheriff Randall Boyce is making sure that people know to slow down, with a stepped up presence on campus and officers running radar from time to time. Deputies were doing so at the campus of Cascade School, another area of concern to local parents, Wednesday morning.

"We get a lot of traffic from the interstate come through here and we've got to slow that down," Boyce said. State troopers have conducted enforcement in the area before, but at this time, the troopers are down to half staff, he said. His deputies also get out to the area, "every chance we get," but Boyce said they face the same manpower problems as the state does.

Parents of Webb students are the ones with the most pressing concerns: their children.

Jenny Hunt, a member of the Bell Buckle Board of Mayor and Aldermen, has two kids at the school and Alison Cocanougher of Shelbyville sends her eighth grader.

"Kids are kids. They're going to be talking to their friends and they get a sense of security being on a campus and in a small town," Hunt said.

"People will see the 15 mph sign flashing at night and think someone forgot to turn it off. The library closes at nine and kids will be out here late. We're not over at 3 p.m."

Hunt also said that a friend did an experiment by driving the speed limit through the campus and then traveling at 40 mph. You only save one minute, Hunt said.

"One minute certainly isn't worth it."

"No one believes they are going to hit anyone," Cauz said. "Once it happens, it is irreparable. What's done is done."

And Harold Bennett explained the lingering sorrow that never goes away.

"I wonder, if I hadn't lost my daughter at 13, what she would have turned into ... what it would have been like today if she was still here," he said. "What about my other daughter? What would have been different with her if Lisa had still been alive? I think that's what runs through your mind more than anything else.

"All that loss. It's just a complete ending to a life and you never get it back. No parent would ever recover."

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