When a car plowed into a home in Raleigh, North Carolina, in August, it ran over a small white cross–which was there in remembrance of the last driver who crashed into the house. Since the homeowners moved in in 2004, the house has been hit by cars a total of six times.
The house, which sits at a corner after a sharp curve in a road, is a victim of bad street design. Now a new petition is asking the city to buy the house from the homeowners–who haven’t been able to sell it–and move.
The first crash happened in 2007, in the middle of the night, when teenagers racing down the road flew out of control. “The damage was really severe,” says Carlo Bernarte, who lives in the house with his wife and young children. “It went all the way to the second floor. It was like somebody threw a bomb in our house.”
The family wrote to the city council asking for help, and then learned from neighbors that crashes had happened before they bought the house as well. The city said there was nothing it could do; the Bernartes paid to fix the house. But a little over a year later, a drunk driver hit the wall in front of the house, sending bricks and glass flying into the living room.
After the second accident, the family tried to sell. But the realtor backed out after realizing that they’d have to disclose the danger. It’s something that the previous homeowner should have done as well, but because of the statute of limitations, the family can’t sue.
The city put up some new signs, and there were four accident-free years. Then, on a Saturday afternoon, with family and friends gathered in the living room, a drunk driver hit the wall in front of the house. A stop sign ricocheted toward the window, barely missing Bernarte’s daughter. They complained again; again the city failed to fix the problem. Another drunk driver crashed a year later. In 2015, a speeding driver drove into the dining room and died. Less than a year later, there was another crash.
“I’m back to where I was 9 or 10 months ago,” Bernarte says. “We’re angry, upset, scared.” Each time a crash happens, he has to take time off work. His homeowner’s insurance has been cancelled. His youngest daughter, age six, spends most of her time at a relative’s house; the whole family has started staying somewhere else on weekends, and living in fear the rest of the time.
“Every time it gets dark, there’s always that unknown,” he says. “It happens when you’re sleeping.”
After the most recent accident, someone else in Raleigh–who doesn’t know the family–decided to start the Change.org petition.
“Because of all the media coverage, I assumed the city or DOT would surely do something to remedy this problem,” says Christine Redshaw, a local business owner, who first heard about the family after the 2015 accident. “How wrong I was. When I saw on the news it happened again in August, I was furious. The city had done nothing between the crash in October and the one in August. They had implemented a few things before the last two crashes, but even they admitted these solutions weren’t working.”
Redshaw agrees that the location is inherently unsafe. “Sadly, this is an area that has always been a stretch where people race, and get a high speed, right before the dangerous curve . . . so they end up in the Bernarte’s front yard/porch/house,” she says.
In a way, it’s the ultimate example of bad suburban street design, not only dangerous for anyone trying to walk or bike nearby, but dangerous even if people are inside their home. Simple changes the city has attempted, such as new lights and arrows, can’t fix the fundamental flaw of the layout. Streets that are unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists are also unsafe for drivers–four drivers and passengers have died in the six accidents. The string of crashes also serves as an apt metaphor for modern car culture; it consumes our lives, and even sometimes our homes.
The petition asks the city to compensate the Bernartes for the house. Redshaw thinks it should be demolished. “No family should ever live there . . . Carlo has been inundated with offers from realtors wanting to sell his home . . . at a loss of course. To me, this is very troubling. Obviously, the house is a danger to any family that lives there. Selling this house would be criminal, in my opinion.”
The petition has gathered around 20,000 signatures so far. Bernarte has hope that it may help. If not, he plans to move, despite the loss. “My options are running out,” he says. “I was at the point to get my stuff and just abandon the home, but I was told no, because that would be a huge financial loss for me. But it’s between that and my safety. I’m going to give this a month or two. If nothing happens, we’re going to just get the hell out of here. Bad credit, I’ll just take the hit. Which is really unfair.”
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