PASCO, Wash. — A rural intersection near Basin City is getting a safety overhaul in hopes it will prevent the type of accident that killed a teen in Yakima County in 2015.
Franklin County’s cross-with-a-curve intersection of Chestnut, Wahluke and Hollingsworth roads is nearly identical to the Yakima County intersection where Angel Mendoza, a Granger High School student, died.
Mendoza, 17, was a passenger in a car hit by a pickup as it turned onto Gurley Road at Yakima Valley Highway. His family is suing the two drivers and Yakima County in a case pending in Benton County Superior Court.
Though the wreck happened in another county, it put Franklin County on alert to the potential for liability.
There hasn’t been a serious accident at the intersection northwest of Basin City, and Franklin County hopes to keep it that way by installing warning signs while it contemplates a permanent fix.
Commissioner Bob Koch learned about the Mendoza case through his service on the Washington Counties Risk Pool, which provides liability coverage to 29 counties, including Yakima.
Koch serves on the executive board, which regularly reviews pending litigation.
He recognized that Franklin County has a similar exposure.
Now that the similar design is identified as a possible hazard, it needs to reduce the risk, even if it means adding inconvenient stop signs, he said.
His fellow commissioners agreed, calling it a wake-up call requiring immediate action.
“If we don’t deal with this and there is an accident next week, I’m going to be pretty upset,” said Brad Peck, commission chairman.
The cross-with-a-curve intersection design is common in eastern Washington, a legacy of a century’s worth of building roads to ease the movement of farm trucks through intersections.
Chestnut and Wahluke meet at right angles. Hollingsworth curves between them, allowing traffic to skip the intersection.
The difficulty comes in summer, during the growing season, as Franklin County realized six summers ago.
The county closed the Hollingsworth curve in July 2012, saying it posed too much of risk when corn in neighboring fields obstructed views. The closure was temporary.
Public safety is the primary concern, but the fear of lawsuits is real.
In the Yakima case, the county and the risk pool expect to bear the cost of any liability for Angel Mendoza’s death under Washington’s “joint and several” liability rules.
That means plaintiffs can recover damages from any of the parties, regardless of their share of the responsibility.
The two drivers have just $125,000 in liability coverage between them. The verdict could top $1 million.
The nonjury trial is set for Oct. 15.