There is an eight-month blank in Carl Van Winkle’s memory, but one thing he does know is how lucky he is to be alive.
Three years ago Van Winkle, 19, was a passenger in an accident that occurred when the driver turned left through a busy intersection in Overland Park. The accident left him in a monthlong coma. After reconstructive facial surgery, Van Winkle went to the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Nebraska where he had to learn to speak and walk again.
“I had to learn to live like a little baby has to learn, except my mom says I was a little bit worse,” Van Winkle joked. “It’s natural for a baby to have to learn, I had to work at it.”
Van Winkle was in one of 250 left-turn accidents that occurred in Overland Park in 2009. City records confirm 264 left-turn accidents in 2010 and 245 in 2011.
Brian Shields, a city traffic engineer since 1998, hopes to see those number go down with help from new flashing yellow turn signals. At the intersection of 127th Street and Antioch, the same site of Van Winkle’s accident in 2009, Overland Park Public Works crews installed the city’s first flashing yellow light recently.
Van Winkle and his mother, Angel Friday, attended the installation.
“To see that progress is being made and to see it right there at that light is just amazing,” Friday said. “Hopefully it will prevent anyone from having to go through what we have. Accidents like this changes your lives in every way.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration adopted flashing yellow turn signals in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices in 2009. The flashing yellow light will follow the steady green light. The flashing indicates that those making left turnd should yield to ongoing traffic.
Shields says Kansas state officials didn’t adopt the federal manual until December 2011.
“These things are strictly up to the state,” Shields said. “When the state adopted the manual policy we were free to go ahead with installing the flashing lights.”
The accidents occur when drivers don’t pay attention as they go straight through an intersection or the left-turn motorist isn’t paying attention.
Depending on feedback from the city, residents can expect to see more flashing turn signals by the end of the summer. Shields says the city is considering the intersection of 91st Street and Nall Avenue for the next installation.
As for Van Winkle, he still attends therapy four to five days a week but he feels like his accident has made him a new man.
Van Winkle will be teaming up with inspirational speaker Brandon Lee White this fall to share his story with children across the state.
“It makes me feel even stronger to be able to share my story,” Van Winkle said. “I just want to get through to people that nothing is impossible, I definitely found that out.”