Stretch of I-65 at Verbena has been scene of several fatal wrecks

When 48-year-old Santiago Garcia died following a crash near the Verbena Interstate 65 exit on Aug. 29, it was unfortunately an all-too-familiar scene.

Three wrecks—resulting in a combined eight deaths—have occurred this year on a one-mile stretch of 65, according to Chilton County Coroner Randy Yeargan.

“At the 200-mile marker, either side of that bridge at the Verbena exit,” Yeargan said of the location. “It’s never been an overly dangerous stretch of road in the past. There’s no curve, no hill—just a straight road. I guess it’s just coincidence all these wrecks have happened there.”

Reasons can be found, though.

A tire blew out on Garcia’s Ford Explorer on Aug. 27, and the vehicle overturned several times, crossed the median and collided with two vehicles traveling the opposite direction, according to Alabama State Troopers. Garcia’s wife and two occupants in a separate vehicle suffered serious injuries.

On Aug. 26, an 18-year-old Birmingham woman and her 10-month-old son died after their vehicle crossed the median and collided with a dump truck.

Investigators determined Randreaita Coleman was texting while she lost control of the vehicle.

Another motorist was injured and transported to the hospital.

“Interstate highways are among the safest types we travel on,” Alabama Department of Transportation Spokesman Tony Harris said. “There are medians that divide opposing lanes of traffic, the lanes are wider than they typically are on other roads, construction is straighter, hills and curves are minimized—and all that is to create the safest highways we can for carrying large volumes of traffic.

“Most [wrecks] can be attributed to driver error—distractions or speeding. Also, failure to wear seatbelts is a major problem. Sixty-five percent of all fatalities in Alabama are the result of no seatbelts. That’s well above the national average of 52 percent.”

The first deadly wreck in the area was on March 26, when a Troy man and four Indiana high school students returning home from a spring break trip died.

Troopers determined a van being driven by Niall McNeillis of Troy crossed the median and struck the vehicle carrying the other four victims.

The common theme among the wrecks is one vehicle crossing into and colliding with traffic traveling the opposite direction.

Harris said ALDOT has a program that analyzes the Interstate system and determines the need for “median barrier protection.” He said plans were in place, even before this year’s fatal wrecks, to install “cable guide rails” along I-65 in Chilton County.

Such rails can be found lining the Interstate from the Chilton-Shelby line north to Birmingham, and in other parts of the state.

“We know that is effective, and we will continue to install that around the state,” Harris said. “We don’t have a schedule for when that area will be addressed, but that planning work is underway and has been for quite some time.”

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