The signs line U.S. Highway 2 like skeletons in a ghoulish parade -- crosses bearing the names of the deceased, road signs warning drivers to slow down. There is even a sign ominously announcing “3 days since the last serious crash.” The implications are unmistakable, but it doesn’t really register until it happens to you.
“I've driven this road many, many times and never really thought about it,” said Tom Cock, driving east toward Stevens Pass. Now, he can’t stop thinking about it.
His 17 year old son, Thomas Turner, died in the town of Gold Bar five and a half years ago after a day of snowboarding in the mountains. They were all sober and driving the speed limit when Thomas’s friend strayed into oncoming traffic and hit a truck head-on in a momentary lapse of judgment.
“It’s a pain you can’t explain,” said the father. “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”
There have been 38 deaths along the 64 mile stretch between Everett and Stevens Pass over the past 10 years, 58 fatal crashes in 14 years. That’s one every three months. As he passed the spot where his son died, Tom said, “This just can't go on. We're massacring people in our state right in front of our eyes.”
Tom wants jersey barriers to divide the highway from around Sultan to the pass, a move that would cost an estimated $1 billion. A Department of Transportation spokesman said Wednesday that a project to divide Highway 2 is financially “out of reach.” The state has spent $10 million over the past five years on safety improvements along the road on things like rumble strips, roundabouts, striping and signage. DOT officials say the situation is actually somewhat encouraging, with their safety improvements paying off. The overall number of people dying on the road known to locals as the “Highway of Death” has been trending downward over the past 14 years.
For now, Tom Cock and his family take what small steps they can. On Wednesday a sign bearing their son’s name was installed on the side of the road, encouraging people to “drive safely.”
Tom hopes it’s a sign of change ahead, but he fears what will happen until then. “It’s such a random thing. You don’t know when it’s coming, but you know it will. You just hope it doesn’t happen to you.”