EMPIRE — An Empire Township home served as a backstop for a wayward vehicle that lost control in slick, wintry conditions.
Mary DeWitt said her husband was blowing snow in their driveway on Thursday when a vehicle sailed past, missing him by inches, and crashed into their garage. She said the driver, George Faulstich, 74, of Carmel, Ind., claimed to be familiar with the treacherously steep road.
“I said, ‘Then why did you hit my house?’” DeWitt said.
It’s not the first time a runaway vehicle crashed into Dewitt’s house; in December 2012, a car heading downhill on slippery, steep County Road 677 lost control and smashed through her dining room.
It’s also not the first time the two houses at the three-road intersection near the south end of Glen Lake ended up receiving direct or glancing blows from out-of-control motorists. DeWitt’s neighbor had at least three vehicles hit her house in the last year alone, including one driven by an intoxicated Traverse City man in August who fled after launching his car off a 12-foot retaining wall.
“It’s just a bad location,” said Leelanau County Undersheriff Steve Morgan.
Keeping vehicles from straying off the road and into houses at the intersection is a problem that’s vexed property owners and road commission officials for years. The first changes came with new signs and a ban on through trucks after a loaded gravel truck in 2004 lost control and plowed through DeWitt’s neighbor’s property, barely missing construction workers building a new house.
The August hit-and-run prompted more changes.
Authorities eventually arrested and charged Abraham E. Labonte. He pleaded guilty to careless driving in exchange for having an operating while intoxicated charge and a drug charge dropped.
Jim Johnson, engineer and manager of the Leelanau County Road Commission, said crews in the fall, at DeWitt and her neighbor’s request, added stop and stop ahead signs, rumble strips and a beacon near the crest of the hill to warn motorists about the treacherous intersection. But he said the real problem is contending with Leelanau County’s hilly landscape.
“It’s part of the beauty that brings people here but makes it difficult to navigate and maintain a road system,” he said.
DeWitt said officials should consider closing the steep County Road 677, or Benzonia Trail, in times of poor driving conditions. She said drivers take the hill more slowly after the rumble strips were added, but said bad tires and slick roads remain a bad combination even when driving down a steep hill at a crawl.
“That’s helped but I don’t know what I can do other than put a brick fortress around my house,” she said.
Morgan said deputies at the Thursday crash ticketed Faulstich for failing to maintain control of his vehicle.