Karen Goggins died after a tractor-trailer slammed into the back of her Ford Escape. Her husband was injured.


Karen Goggin has spent her life caring for people all over the world, from Massachusetts to Alabama to Germany and Tennessee. At the same time, she passed on what she knew about nursing to a new generation, was an elder in her Presbyterian church, performed in the bell choir, and coordinated the Christmas angel tree each year.

When she retired, she and her husband, Thomas, chose to settle in the countryside of Lake Frederick, Virginia, with its lake known for largemouth bass and bluegill, but not too much. away from their son Brian in Washington, DC

In July, Karen died in a seven-car pile-up on Interstate 85 near Gaffney, South Carolina, an accident, according to Cherokee County Coroner Dennis Fowler, that should never have happened.

Two others died too, Thomas and Ruth Ann McElroy of Townville, South Carolina.

The Goggin and McElroy were among the motorists stranded in traffic that day in what road engineers call a chute, where a lane is lined with concrete barriers to keep vehicles away from construction during a widening project. of the road.

Fowler had another name: “death trap”.

The cars had nowhere to go when an 18-wheeled vehicle slammed into the back of the line.

Thomas Goggins filed lawsuits in federal court on Tuesday alleging Blythe Construction, Zachry Construction, Johnson Mirmiran and Thompson were negligent in the design and execution of the I-85 widening project and Cowen Systems and his employee, trucker John Allen Ferguson, were negligent in causing Goggin’s death and injury.

Meanwhile, South Carolina transportation officials plan to continue using the “fall” design for other upcoming road projects, including on a busy Midlands highway.

Falls in road construction

The state Department of Transportation has been using falls since 2003 in areas where an interstate highway is too narrow to be paved alongside to maintain two lanes of traffic.

Chutes were used on Interstate 20 in Richland County and Interstate 85 in Spartanburg County.

Christy Hall, secretary of SC DOT, said an upcoming project on Interstate 26 covering Lexington, Richland and Newberry counties will require the use of chutes.

She said on the Interstate 20 project, 12 people have died in crashes since work began in 2016, but none were in the fall.

Hall said such a design is standard practice in road building nationwide.

“If we were limited to one lane, we would have had reinforcements on the North Carolina line,” she said.

The $ 830 million Project I-85 began in July 2017 and is a major overhaul of a highway that carries 55,000 cars per day through Spartanburg and Cherokee counties, about a quarter of which is truck traffic.

Took 10 miles of falls north and south.

Hall has defended the mileage, saying people mistakenly think that with a road widening project you start at one end and move forward. The truth is, it happens in stages, from relocation and replacement of utilities, foundation work, drainage, leveling and more.

In the case of I-85, many bridges had to be rebuilt and front roads were relocated.

Fowler, the Cherokee County coroner, said first responders were concerned about limited access to the falls in the event of an accident and had meetings with Hall to voice their concerns.

“Although state officials approved them at two separate public meetings in Gaffney, I do not agree that they are safe for motorists,” he said in a statement. press release following the accident on July 15 in which Goggins and the McElroys died.

“It seems none of these officials are around to ride with me knocking on the doors of my loved ones to convey the message that a loved one has been killed in this concrete maze.”

In an interview earlier this month, Fowler said another concern was that a 60 mph speed limit was too high for such a narrow and confined pavement, and that the highway patrol was not enforcing the law prohibiting trucks from using the chute.

Hall said she was notified by a member of transport staff of the fatal I-85 crash within 20 minutes of the pile-up.

“It’s a deadly mix of high speed and inattention,” she said, a situation she knows all too well. She said she too was hit from behind as she was in a line of cars.

A chain reaction

On July 15, the Goggins were on their way to Atlanta to help their youngest son, Sean, move out of his apartment. He was a recent graduate of Emory University, family lawyer Ken Suggs of Janet, Janet and Suggs in Colombia, says.

They were in a Ford Escape when Thomas Goggin saw a truck coming at high speed in his rearview mirror. His wife was in the passenger seat.

Suggs said the Escape’s black box revealed it went from 0 to 60 mph the second the truck hit it.

Thomas was able to get out of the SUV, but his wife got stranded and rescuers were unable to reach her quickly. He was taken to hospital, while rescuers pulled him out of the car. She died later to the hospital.

“It’s amazing that someone survived,” Suggs said.

Fowler said the McElroys in the car in front of the Coggins died at the scene. Others suffered minor injuries.

In all, seven cars were involved in the pile-up, including the truck that overturned the Goggins. Some of the cars ended up in the northbound lane due to the severity of the collision.

In an affidavit submitted with the Goggins lawsuit, Brian Bottomley, an engineer from Illinois, said the speed limit was too high and the exclusion of trucks in the chute was not properly enforced.

The lawsuit said some 200 accidents occurred during Project I-85.

Suggs said Thomas Goggins, who flew air ambulances after a military career, suffered a shoulder injury and broken ribs. He is recovering but is devastated by the loss of his wife, Suggs said.

Since the crash, the DOT has removed five of the 10-mile falls and plans to take the rest by the end of the year. Hall said it will likely take 2024 before the widening work is complete.

The South Carolina Highway Patrol has not released its accident reconstruction report, and no charges have been filed, Cpl. Joel Hovis of the Highway Patrol said.

Suggs said he was told the report would be finalized and released in October.

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