Another fatality at Farmersville intersection

By Reggie Ellis

A deadly combination of factors led to the second fatal accident at Road 156 and Visalia Road in less than two weeks.

At about 4:05 p.m. on Aug. 23, Jose Gonzalez Prado of Farmersville, whose 1994 Toyota pickup was stopped in the southbound lane of Road 156, pulled out in front of a 1982 GMC traveling west on Visalia Road, according to the California Highway Patrol. The front of the GMC struck the left side of Prado's vehicle. Prado was not wearing his seatbelt and was pronounced dead at the scene.

The driver of the GMC, 43-year-old Mike Paiz Jr. of Visalia, sustained major injuries to his chest and head and was complaining of pain commonly associated with internal bleeding when he was transported to Kaweah Delta. CHP Officer Mark Walker said Paiz is being investigated for driving under the influence of alcohol but was not taken into custody upon his release from the hospital.

While not wearing a seatbelt and Paiz driving under the influence were both factors that led to Prado's death, a third factor was the intersection itself. On Aug. 10 an Exeter woman was killed in a head-on collision at the same intersection that has yet to be explained by CHP investigators.

At about 5:50 p.m. Catherine Kalar, 47, of Exeter was driving eastbound on Avenue 280 west of Road 156 when her 1995 Honda Accord drifted into oncoming traffic, colliding with a 1999 Chevy Blazer. Kalar died from her injuries. The driver of the Chevy, a 63-year-old Visalia woman, was taken to Kaweah Delta Hospital with major injuries. According to CHP's accident report, Kalar was traveling at or near the speed limit at the time of the collision. It is still unknown why her vehicle swerved into the opposite lane. Both women were wearing seat belts.

In June the Tulare County Association of Governments (TCAG) released its annual study grading 50 intersections within Tulare County. TCAG, the agency which oversees transportation projects for Tulare County, gives each intersection a grade on a letter scale from "A", representing smooth traffic flows, to "F", for congested traffic or gridlock.

No surprise to local residents commuting to Visalia, the intersection at Road 156 and Visalia Road was one of the worst in the county. The dangerous intersection is a two-way stop with traffic stopping on Road 156 but not Visalia Road.

TCAG gave the intersection a grade of "F," meaning that during peak traffic hours between 4-6 p.m. during the work week, there are conditions "generally considered unacceptable to most drivers." In its report, TCAG recommended widening the intersection to provide for a left turn lane on the southbound approach of Road 156.

Dennis Mills, transportation engineer with TCAG, said that the report is not a safety rating but rather a traffic flow rating. In order for an intersection to be upgraded to a four-way stop it must meet safety warrants established in the CalTrans Traffic Manual. The manual says "Multi-way stop installation" should ordinarily be used only where the volume of traffic on intersecting roads is approximately equal. Multi-way stop signs are warranted when one or more of the following conditions exists:

  • Where traffic signals are needed and signage is used as an interim measure

  • When there are five or more accidents within a year that could have been prevented by a four-way stop

  • Total vehicular volume entering the intersection from all approaches averaging at least 500 vehicles per hour for any 8 hours of an average day

  • An average delay to minor street vehicular traffic of at least 30 seconds per vehicle during the maximum hour

  • When more than 85 percent of vehicles approach speeds exceeding 40 mph

  • When the minimum vehicular volume is 70 percent of the above requirements

    The intersection currently meets two of the aforementioned warrants as most traffic is traveling at or above 40 mph and there is an average delay of 54.7 seconds per vehicle during peak hours, according to TCAG's report. According to TCAG, the traffic volume does average more than 500 vehicles (543) per hour but only during peak hours, there are no plans to install traffic signals and the volume on Road 156 is less than a third of the traffic volume on Visalia Road.

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