HOWELL – A motor vehicle accident that occurred more than three years ago sparked a Howell resident’s successful effort to have a full traffic signal installed at the intersection of Squankum-Yellowbrook and West Farms roads.
In an interview with the Tri-Town News this week, Ira Thor described the process he followed after his vehicle was struck at the intersection on Sept. 7, 2018.
Thor said he believes dashcam footage he supplied helped to convince Monmouth County officials to install a full traffic signal at the intersection. Squankum-Yellowbrook Road is Monmouth County Route 524A. The new full traffic signal became operational in mid-September.
The intersection previously had a traffic signal with blinking red and yellow lights. Vehicles traveling on West Farms Road had to stop at the intersection, while vehicles traveling on Squankum-Yellowbrook Road had the right of way and did not have to stop.
“Sept. 7 was my wife’s birthday. I was driving my daughter to preschool … I go that way every day at 9 a.m. and I had always been a little leery of that (blinking) light because I had a couple of close calls there when people (driving on West Farms Road) did not stop completely or who just blew right through (the red blinking light),” Thor said.
“Thank God I was going the speed limit because if I was going any faster I would have gotten hit (worse). If I had gotten there a split second earlier I would have gotten hit right on the side and we might not be having this conversation. That fact is not lost on me,” Thor said.
Thor said the driver of the vehicle that struck his vehicle was an 84-year-old man who was driving a commercial pickup truck. He said that driver did not attempt to stop at the red blinking light that controlled vehicles on West Farms Road.
The busy intersection is the location of Kirk Florist at 80 West Farms Road.
“To this day I will never understand it, but he rolled right through the intersection and it ended up being a T-bone situation. The Kirk Florist owners were wonderful, they came out” to help, Thor said, adding that the owners of the business helped to calm his daughter in the immediate aftermath of the collision.
Thor did not sustain any significant injuries. He said he eventually spoke with the owners of the flower shop who told him they had seen several fatalities at the intersection over the years. When he heard that, he decided he had to do something.
“In December 2018, I reached out to the county engineering office. I originally reached out to the county freeholders and got no response. I then reached out to the county engineers and to their credit they met with me … I showed them the (dashcam) video and (told them) the stories I had heard about how dangerous that intersection was,” Thor said.
“Understanding that (Squankum-Yellowbrook) is a county road, and especially after talking to (Howell Police Chief Andrew Kudrick), I knew this was not a town issue.
“The town (officials) could push for (a full traffic signal) a little bit, but ultimately it was a county decision, and the county had its own checklist for what qualifies a traffic light to be installed and they said they had been studying (the intersection) for a while,” Thor said.
“The video I showed them of the accident was certainly pretty powerful; with the audio you can hear my young daughter crying. I don’t think they had ever seen video before. I don’t think they had ever seen exactly how bad that intersection was, how much of a hazard it was,” Thor said.
He said he was assured the matter would be taken seriously. Thor said he ended up reaching out to the county in December 2018, during the summer of 2020 and during the summer of 2021.
“I just wanted to understand what the progress was and they said enough time had now passed. They were able to study the intersection a little bit more, gather some data in terms of the volume of traffic … Unfortunately, I don’t think (traffic) was counted during a school day, so it was likely counted when there was less traffic than normal,” he said.
Thor said he does not want credit for getting the full traffic signal installed and he emphasized that his efforts were not related to his membership on the Howell K-8 School District Board of Education. He said he pursued the matter as a private citizen.
“This became a personal mission for me. I walked away from that intersection,” he said, adding he has pain in his left hip as a result of the accident. “I am lucky to have walked away from that (accident). People have died there and I don’t want to see anybody else die.
“It is unfair, especially on a road (Squankum-Yellowbrook) that leads to a middle school and to a high school, to have a situation where people are almost playing Russian roulette at that intersection. There is no need for it,” Thor said.
“As the town grows, I think (officials) are going to continually need to re-evaluate intersections that were built in another era for a different volume of traffic,” Thor said.
He said new residential developments will lead to more vehicles on Howell’s roads.
“I have driven approximately 1.2 million miles in my lifetime and the only accident I have ever had happened 2 miles from my house. I love living here, but to feel that kind of danger” is unnerving, Thor said
There were two other accidents at the intersection of Squankum-Yellowbrook and West Farms roads in the two weeks after his accident, including one accident that took down a utility pole, he said.
“Action had to happen. I was going to say something and go to the county on my own and I am glad I did. Was that the lone reason this (installation of a full traffic signal) happened? No.
“Did it help the cause? I would imagine a concerned citizen with video evidence of how dangerous this intersection was absolutely gave the engineers some guidance they needed to push this along,” Thor said.