Public hearing

Colonial Forge High students, wearing yellow in remembrance of classmate Helen Wang, attend a public hearing in Stafford County on Tuesday.

Stafford County’s Abel Lake boat ramp and its parking area at Kellogg Mill Road are closed until further notice.

That decision came quickly on Tuesday, after Stafford’s Board of Supervisors heard from a group of Colonial Forge High School students who delivered emotional public statements after the death of classmate Helen Wang.

The 17-year-old junior was killed Thursday, May 16—her birthday—when the car she was driving collided with a truck as she attempted to turn onto Kellogg Mill Road from the boat ramp’s parking area.

A 17-year-old boy riding in the car was transported to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries and later released, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Tuesday’s decision by county supervisors was made primarily for roadway and public safety concerns, but it will also give county officials time to clear from the area overgrown vegetation and other line-of-sight obstacles. Excessive tree limbs, high grass and overgrown vegetation were all cited during Tuesday’s meeting as possible contributors to the fatal collision.

Supervisor Mark Dudenhefer, who lost his own 18-year-old daughter, Emily, in a January 2004 accident on Mountain View Road, said, “The most important aspect of government is public safety. That’s our No. 1 priority. We need to be much more aggressive than we are now. We are failing these kids.”

At the conclusion of the public hearing, Supervisor Meg Bohmke urged the board to take immediate action.

“Cut the trees down tomorrow,” Bohmke said.

Supervisor Jack Cavalier added, “This needs to be done now. There’s no reason why we can’t send work crews out there tomorrow.”

Chairman Gary Snellings issued the directive to county officials to close the area immediately.

Jeff Adams, who lives on Kellogg Mill Road, said within the last 10 years, he’s seen many fatalities along the dangerous stretch of road that he’s lived on for the last 40 years.

“I’ve had Colonial Forge students killed to the left of my driveway—I’ve had Colonial Forge students killed to the right of my driveway,” said Adams. “We’ve had the same narrow bridge here for 40 years and they haven’t cleared the vegetation in that area for 40 years, either.”

Adams said he uses caution pulling onto Kellogg Mill Road.

Because of the overgrowth of vegetation, Adams said he never looks to the left because he cannot see vehicles coming in his direction.

“I roll down my windows, turn off my radio and listen,” Adams said. “If I don’t hear a car on the bridge, I know it’s safe to turn onto the road because of the sound. I never have confidence in vision.”

During Tuesday’s public hearing, Alexis Eileen Surman, a Colonial Forge senior, pleaded, “Our roads are God-awful. The roads are the worst I’ve ever seen. Instead of waiting for someone to die again, we need to take care of this now.”

Another Colonial Forge senior—Emily Elizabeth Imes—said as soon as the incident happened, her feelings went immediately to anger. Imes feels county officials are not directing enough attention toward the safety of area roadways.

“I knew that the past four years that I have lived here, I’ve known of so many accidents, so many that have resulted in deaths, so many that put people on life support, and they still haven’t done anything about it,” said Imes. “What the county plans on doing at Courthouse Road—without being too rude about it—the choices that they’re making with where they’re putting their money for construction is dumb, and I feel they really need to think it through.”

Alexis Eileen Surman, a senior at Colonial Forge, was at Abel Lake’s waterfall Thursday when the wreck occurred.

“It makes me real angry, because last year there was a head-on collision and nothing was done, and now we have to go through the process again,” she said. “The roads around here are awful. There are potholes everywhere. Students are driving these roads. Closing [the boat ramp] is the best thing they can do for now.”

Michael Paul Sampson, a former Colonial Forge student, who was a classmate and friend of Wang, said he was thankful that the supervisors were having this conversation, but said he was disappointed that the discussion was happening under such adverse circumstances.

“Ask any high-schooler. They will tell you where roads need improvement,” said Sampson. “I ask that moving forward—because it’s too late now—that we take this opportunity to have these discussions before this happens again.”

Get our daily Headlines Newsletter

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

James Scott Baron: 540/374-5438

jbaron@freelancestar.com