A group of local teens are taking action in the wake of classmate Helen Wang’s death.
Wang—a 17-year-old Colonial Forge junior—was killed when the car she was driving collided with a truck as she attempted to turn onto Kellogg Mill Road from the Abel Lake boat ramp’s parking area.
The crash not only caused immeasurable sorrow among Wang’s family, classmates and members of the community, but it also motivated a group of students to work toward improving roadway safety in the county.
The local student movement, called Changing Stafford’s Roads, emerged soon after Wang’s death.
The crash prompted county supervisors to immediately close Abel Lake’s boat ramp access to allow the Virginia Department of Transportation time to clear tree limbs, high grass and overgrown vegetation—all cited as possible contributors to the fatal collision. County officials also chipped in on the safety improvement by paving the gravel entrance to the boat ramp.
“What they did with Abel Lake was great, because they paved that, and they cleared the vegetation, but that’s only one spot in this whole community where there are so many bad roads,” said Kaitlyn Fulmore, a rising senior at Colonial Forge High School. “Just because that one’s fixed doesn’t mean other people aren’t going to have other problems on different roads.”
Crystal Alvillar, the adult liaison for the group, said Changing Stafford’s Roads was formed to accelerate the movement for roadway safety improvements throughout the county.
Alvillar’s son Jade was a passenger in Wang’s car on the day of the crash. Both Crystal Alvillar and her husband saw the student group as “an opportunity to prevent crashes like this from happening to another family,” she said.
“Whether it be a child or an adult, we were determined,” said Alvillar.
After forming their group, the teens developed a roadway safety survey to send to their peers and other road users through social media to gain input on hazardous road conditions in the immediate vicinity of their high school. The results of their work were shared with Stafford’s Board of Supervisors during a June 4 meeting.
Students told the supervisors that over 1,300 survey respondents had shared their views on hazardous roadways in the county that have limited sight distances, high vegetation growth, damaged signs, potholes and other issues.
Although the survey garnered a large number of responses, its scope was limited to the vicinity of Colonial Forge. The teens decided to broaden the reach of a new survey to include the entire county.
On Monday, the Changing Stafford’s Roads group met at Colonial Forge to fine-tune its strategy and determine the next steps.
Rising senior Charlotte Vazquez said the meeting was an opportunity to “start prioritizing exactly what we want to do by developing a mission statement for the group, reorganizing the survey data, and creating a new survey to reach all of Stafford.”
Alvillar said the new survey is expected to be ready July 1 and will remain open for input until Sept. 15.
The group also discussed leadership roles and the establishment of several subcommittees to oversee and manage county safety and surveys, government affairs, social media and meeting planning. A team was also formed to ensure that signs with the motto, “Clear the Trees for Helen Please” are placed—legally—in key locations within the county.
Stafford County Supervisor Tom Coen, who teaches government at Colonial Forge, is assisting the group as an academic advisor. Coen is also helping the students expand the survey’s reach through the county school system.
Coen said his role in the process is to “help the students, mostly behind the scenes.”
“My goal is not to run it, it’s to be helpful,” said Coen.
Stafford County Supervisor Mark Dudenhefer also met with the teens prior to Monday’s meeting.
“I emphasized there are no quick fixes to major road improvements,” Dudenhefer said.
Dudenhefer said he asked the students to support his efforts to get a roadway safety improvement and congestion bond referendum on the ballot and get it passed in November.
In January 2004, Dudenhefer’s 17-year-old daughter, Emily, was killed when the driver of the car she was traveling in ran off Mountain View Road. Since then, Dudenhefer has been a vocal advocate for improving the county’s roadways.
Dudenhefer told the students, “Don’t let your elected officials forget that road safety is one of their critical responsibilities.”
Since January, VDOT’s Fredericksburg District has received more than 2,900 work requests from area motorists and residents through its Report a Road Problem campaign.
“If a stop sign is down, or it’s a tree in the road, or flooding in the road—anything that’s imminent danger, the call center will do a work request, but then they call our Emergency Operations Centers that we have and they then call the superintendent on the phone and dispatch them out to take care of them immediately,” said Marcie Parker, VDOT’s local district engineer.
For grass mowing and vegetation removal, Parker said the agency tries to mow primary miles—those routes numbered 600 or below—three times a year, and secondary roads twice a year.
For areas that are not routes, it is up to the property owner to keep the vegetation and debris in check.
“Abel Lake is not a state road in there, so that would be considered more of a commercial entrance,” Parker said. “However, based on the outcry and just the emotions of the situation and the board meeting … we said that we would help out the county—since it was county property—and that we would go take care of it at that point in time.”
Andrew Spence, Stafford County’s community engagement director, reported the county’s Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities Department maintains the majority of entrances to facilities that have boat ramps or public car access areas and that each facility has its own mowing schedule.
The Changing Stafford’s Roads group will provide Stafford supervisors an update on its progress at the next board meeting June 18.
“We’re trying to get attention to the conditions of the roads,” said rising senior Isabela Motta. “Helen is our sole purpose for doing this.”