A bittersweet benefit: Frisco resident helps expand dangerous highway where son died
Groundbreaking for the expansion of U.S. Highway 380 took place Aug. 2 and included the families of individuals killed in accidents on the highway. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Seidler.
Kimberly Seidler knows the devastation a parent faces when a child is killed. Seidler's 21-year-old son Calvin was killed while driving back to the family's home in Frisco on a dangerous stretch of U.S. Highway 380 in Wise County. Calvin was driving home from Texas Tech for Christmas when his life was taken on Dec. 16, 2010.
Out of Seidler's heartbreak comes hope for other drivers of U.S. 380, however. On Aug. 2, Seidler was joined at a groundbreaking ceremony to widen the narrow two-lane highway by two other mothers whose children were killed in a crash on the same stretch of U.S. 380.
Following her son's accident, Seidler began researching U.S. 380 and found a disturbing trend: the highway had seen a large number of accidents as well as an abnormal amount of fatalities.
"I started checking into things and saw there were so many accidents on that stretch of road from Wise County to Denton County," Seidler said. "There were about 70 accidents in one year's time and at least seven fatalities along the same stretch of road [where my son's accident was]."
Seidler's discovery led her to Eva Czerniak, another parent whose child was killed on the same dangerous portion of the highway. Czerniak's daughter, Samantha Rogers, was driving on the highway with one of her friends, Delaney Mancil, when both girls were killed in a four-car accident on the highway. That accident took place just a month before Calvin's.
"I was able to find the names of other victims online, but Samantha's last name was different from Eva's," Seidler explained. "I saw her on TV and looked her up on Facebook. I told her who I was and about my son; she immediately contacted me back and told me about all the work she'd done. She gave me the names of people to contact who had been helpful to her."
After their children's accidents, the women learned a sad reality: the two-lane highway was supposed to be expanded to four lanes, but funds for that expansion had been diverted to other projects. The information led Czerniak along with Delaney's mother, Debbie Mancil, to contact politicians and officials in the Texas Department of Transportation. Seidler joined the women's efforts after contacting Czerniak, but was quickly met with frustration. The women all received a similar response to their inquiries: there's simply not enough money.
"It was difficult because nobody really wanted to claim responsibility -- they all said there was no money and that they'd like to help but couldn't really do anything about it," Seidler said.
Undeterred, the women went on to gather more than 4,000 signatures requesting TxDOT restore money that was supposed to go to widening the highway but was instead reallocated to other roadways. They sent the petition to local, state and federal officials along with e-mails, phone calls and letters.
"We had a lot of people in Frisco who have been very supportive to us," Seidler said. "Everybody pitched in and helped to get as many signatures as we could before the Texas Department of Transportation met in Austin in the hopes it would sway their decision to put the money back [toward U.S. 380]."
The mothers found notable allies along the way as well, including Denton County Commissioner Andy Eads, Denton County Judge Mary Horn and Congressman Michael Burgess. Interviews with local ABC and CBS television stations also helped promote their goal of expanding the highway.
Eads, commissioner of Denton County's fourth precinct, praised the women's efforts and said the expanded highway will benefit all motorists.
"I was proud to get the opportunity to work with the families of many of the victims who passed away on this stretch of highway as we worked to increase awareness for the necessity of this construction project," he said. "We worked with our state legislators and members of the TxDOT commission to identify funding for the project -- it was a true partnership on the county, state and federal level. This project, while we're excited to see it started, comes much too late for many of these families but hopefully will prevent similar accidents in the future."
As a result of their combined efforts, U.S. 380 will now feature four lanes -- two in each direction -- as well as a wide median separating the eastbound lanes from the westbound lanes. The expansion will take approximately three years.
"People need to still be very careful during construction," Seidler said. "Even though they're finally starting it's still going to be a long time before it's completed. There's still going to be a lot of big trucks on the highway combined with heavy traffic and until it's finished it's going to be very dangerous."
For Seidler, the improvements to the highway represent more than a year of hard work, but that doesn't lessen her loss.
"It's bittersweet; I'm so happy it's getting done, I just wish had it been done before my son traveled that road," Seidler said. "But the widening of it and the improvements that they're making, such as shoulders and turn lanes, will prevent other families from having to bury their children."