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Wednesday, July 24, 2024 at 8:40 PM

Enough is Enough

Latest collision on 377 ends in fatality, citizens demand change
Enough is Enough

Author: Josh Velten

After the latest motor vehicle accident on U.S. 377 and Bones Chapel Road in Whitesboro ended in a fatality last week, the Whitesboro community has had enough.

“It’s time for something to be done,” citizen Ken Smith said. “It’s sad we have to wait for someone to lose their life before change can happen.”

On June 23, 24-year-old Emberlynn Cotton was driving northbound on 377 when troopers say she rear-ended a car that had slowed to turn onto Bones Chapel Road. The collision sent Cotton’s car into the southbound lane of oncoming traffic where she was struck. Cotton was transported to the hospital, where she died from her injuries. Cotton leaves behind an 8-year-old stepson and two daughters, ages 5 and 6.

The accident took place just nine months after Cotton’s daughters and mother-in-law, Jeanne Harper, were involved in a motor vehicle accident just five miles north on 377. 
“I was turning southbound onto 377 and was broadsided by a dump truck,” Harper said. “I never even saw him coming. By the time the vehicles stopped moving, my engine was 30 feet away from my car.”

Luckily, the two young girls were unharmed. Harper, on the other hand, sustained a broken arm (which required surgery), broken sternum, broken ribs and an ankle cut that required stitches.

Cotton moved to the Whitesboro area about two years ago with her husband Kyle. Harper describes A=Emberlynn as a free-spirited girl who liked to paint, loved the lake and loved her kids more than life itself. 

“She was a good-hearted person who will be missed by a lot of people,” Harper said.

Cotton didn’t have insurance, so the family is trying to raise money to cover funeral expenses and to help care for her daughters. Anyone wishing to contribute can make cash donations in a jar at the Whitesboro 7-Eleven, send money through Zelle (850-399-0224) or Cash App ($JeanneHarper69) or contact First United Bank of Whitesboro and make a donation in Harper’s name.

U.S. 377, especially around Bones Chapel Road, has been a problem for some time. According to reports from the Whitesboro Fire Department, in 2023 there were six accidents along that stretch of highway, half of which resulted in injuries. Since January of this year, there have been two accidents there, the latest of which ended in a fatality and injuries.

“Something needs to be done about that spot,” Harper said. 

Many Whitesboro residents agree. Smith has lived in Whitesboro for more than 25 years and resides about a mile off of Bones Chapel Road. He himself has had many “near misses” on U.S. 377, with folks tailgating or swerving around traffic.

“In that area, drivers are anticipating you to move up to 75 miles per hour,” Smith said. “They’re not expecting you to turn [onto Bones Chapel Road].”

Several years ago, Smith was involved in an accident near there, and has had neighbors who were nearly hit by other motorists.

“We hear story after story of near misses at that intersection,” Smith said. “Someone will slow down to turn, but the car behind them blocks the next driver from seeing the turn signal and brake lights. It’s extremely dangerous.”

With the news of Cotton’s death, Smith decided it was time to take action. He created a page on www.Change.org to start a petition.

“My goal is to reach 1,000 signatures,” Smith said. “Once I have that, I want to submit the petition to Reggie Smith [Texas State Representative for District 62]. We need to raise awareness about this issue. Maybe the county will step up.”

Smith’s goals for the petition are to elicit the following changes:
1. Slow the speed limit to 50-55 for another half-mile on U.S. 377
2. Create a No Passing zone for half a mile past Bones Chapel Rd.
3. Post Dangerous Intersection signs and possibly a flashing yellow light

Because U.S. 377 is a state highway, it falls under the jurisdiction of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). According to their website, proposed changes to the highway system are approved by the Texas Transportation Commission. Changes are based on specific criteria, including location, type of highway, city and county resolutions and request from local TxDOT district.

According to Tim McAlavy, TxDOT Public Information Officer for the Paris District, if citizens have concerns about a road under TxDOT jurisdiction, the best course of action is to send an email or call their district representative. Contact information can be found on the txdot.gov website.

“One email is as good as 20,” McAlavy said. “Just remember, TxDOT is a state agency. We work deliberately to achieve the best result for taxpayer money spent. The wheels of progress sometimes move slowly.”

When an investigation is requested, TxDOT prepares a packet that includes the proposed minute order and sends it to the commission for approval. In his 10 years as Paris District Information Officer, McAlavy isn’t aware of any TxDOT investigation into the intersection at U.S. 377 and Bones Chapel Road.

Smith contacted TxDOT years ago when he experienced his accident but hasn’t contacted them since.

“It feels pointless,” he said. “They have their data they have to meet. I’d rather put pressure on the county and state and see if they’ll do something. The changes I’m proposing wouldn’t cost much – they’re inexpensive short-term solutions that could really make a difference.”

At press time, Smith’s petition has a total of 320 signatures. To help him reach his goal of 1,000 signatures, visit https://chng.it/FJhGxkSvMt