As 84-year-old accused of vehicular homicide awaits court date, residents say road fix can’t waitThe intersection of North Candler and Commerce Drive. Image obtained via Google maps.
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Her arraignment is set for June 5, according to county court records.
But residents of the Decatur Renaissance Condominiums where Merlin lived said the city needs to address public safety on the road before someone else is hurt or killed.
The incident occurred at Commerce Drive and North Candler Street, near the Decatur Kroger. Merlin was in the crosswalk crossing Commerce Drive. Police allege that Holcombe was exiting the Kroger parking lot in her vehicle and making a left turn onto Commerce Drive when she struck Merlin. Holcombe allegedly told police she didn’t see the pedestrians in the crosswalk, police said.
Residents living in the area have been worried about safety on that section of Commerce Drive for some time.
“Members of our community and the board have been actively communicating with the City Commissioners and meeting with [the Georgia Department of Transportation] concerning what we feel to be the unsafe conditions of Commerce Drive, particularly between North Candler and Church Street,” Decatur Renaissance Condominium Association President Buddy Harrell told Decaturish. “One of the frustrating things is the entanglement of roles and responsibilities for the stretch of road. Three different governmental entities, Decatur, DeKalb County, and GDOT all have a piece of the puzzle.”
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In a letter to city commissioners on behalf of the condo association, Harrell wrote that the city should consider a temporary fix until a permanent solution can be devised.
“At this time we don’t know what this might be, but we know that the city has a reputation for innovation and technical know how that could hopefully provide some immediate solution for reducing some of the current risk,” he wrote. “We, of course, would look forward to working with the City in any way that we can.”
The letter also outlines the condo association’s concerns with this section of Commerce Drive:
“This crossing has been of particular concern for us over the years because of the excessive vehicle speeding on Commerce and the short period of time allowed by the signals to cross at that intersection. The stretch of Commerce between North Candler Street and Church Street presents a high risk to pedestrians crossing Commerce to shop at the Kroger store or to walk to the cemetery.
Beginning at the Church Street traffic light and heading east, there are exits or entrances from: an open parking lot, two commercial properties, two entrance/exits at Kroger, and one entrance and exit from a parking garage ending at the Candler traffic light. Additionally, many walkers cross the North Candler/Commerce intersection to visit the cemetery.
It should also be noted that many downtown residents walk or use motorized wheel chairs through the Renaissance parking garage to Commerce Drive. The sidewalk on the south side of Commerce is in very poor condition. There is no sidewalk on the east side of North Candler for some 100-plus feet before reaching the Commerce traffic signal. We believe that these conditions present an unacceptable risk to the safety of our community and the citizens of Decatur.”
Decatur City Manager Peggy Merriss said DeKalb County controls the signals and GDOT controls that section of the road.
She said the city has done some things to make the area safer for pedestrians.
“In spite of some of the difficulties, the city has been able to work with DeKalb County to extend the time to cross Commerce Drive on North Candler in order to pace the crossing to DeKalb County’s standard for the average time it takes older adults and youth pedestrians to cross,” she said. “In addition, our staff has secured a replacement traffic controller for the cabinet that will allow pedestrian lead time to be added to cross Commerce Drive before the traffic signal actually shows green for vehicles to proceed from North Candler and for vehicles exiting the Kroger parking lot. The estimated time to install, program and permit installation of the replacement controller is six to eight weeks.”
Mayor Patti Garrett said the recent changes were implemented because of what happened to Merlin. She said she’s heard suggestions that the city should paint the crosswalk in different colors, like the crosswalks along Ponce de Leon running through the city. But GDOT regulations prohibit that, she said. Another short-term fix might be to install red flags at the crosswalk that pedestrians could wave as they cross the street.
“I want the neighbors to know the city is using its expertise along with that of GDOT to figure out what other solutions can be done there,” Mayor Garrett said.
Merriss said the city does not yet know what a longer-term solution for making the area safer would look like.
“Other than the work we are doing to increase the crossing time and adding lead time for pedestrians, we do not yet have other possibilities that seem to be immediately actionable,” Merriss said. “We have received some suggestions and ideas which we continue to consider and review to determine what is feasible for us or are efforts that need to be taken by DeKalb County or GDOT. The incident … was tragic and we do recognize the great loss to the family, neighbors and the greater Decatur community. We know that with the assistance and input from our residents and partners, we will continue to do what we can to improve pedestrian safety throughout the city of Decatur.”
Holcombe is reportedly devastated by what happened according to her attorney and those who know her.
The Decatur Police Department requested that the city solicitor ask a city court judge to have Holcombe surrender her license as a condition of her bond, but the judge declined to do that, according to City Solicitor Larry Steele and Holcombe’s attorney, Calvin Leipold Jr.
“It’s a serious matter,” Steele said. “It’s a serious case and the police department requested that I attempt to make that a condition of her bond.”
Leipold said there was no basis to ask his client to surrender her license because “she hasn’t been convicted of anything at this point and time.” He said that Merlin’s death was an accident and his client is distraught.
“It’s just a terrible accident, is what we believe happened,” Leipold said. “She feels horribly about it.”
Here is a copy of the letter from the Decatur Renaissance Condominium Association to the Decatur City Commission:
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