A pickup wreck early Sunday morning took out 33 feet of concrete guard rail on an Ellis Avenue bridge about 9 miles south of Ellis.
The driver, a 16-year-old girl from McCracken, was taken to Hays Medical Center and released a couple hours later, according to the accident report from the Ellis County Sheriff’s Department. The county will now pursue repairs to the bridge through her insurance provider, according to Bill Ring, director of Ellis County Public Works.
Discussion of the bridge damage at Monday evening’s Ellis County Commission meeting also brought up unrelated pothole problems not far from the wreck on the same road. A 5-mile stretch of Ellis Avenue that is about a mile-and-a-half south of where the accident occurred is in bad shape and needs repair, according to Ring and the commissioners.
“I know you’ve had calls about the Ellis blacktop condition, and I’ve had numerous calls,” said County Commission Chair Dean Haselhorst, addressing Ring during the meeting.
Ellis Avenue, a two-lane blacktop that runs south out Ellis, extends about 15 miles to the county line with Rush County. The 5-mile stretch of bad blacktop starts at Grants Villa Road and continues south.
Ring said Monday there’s no structural damage to the bridge, so it remains open, with orange cones along the damaged rail. Ring said he’ll review an engineering consultant’s report on the damage, as well as any reports from the driver’s insurance company, to figure out the cost of repairs and a timeline for fixing the bridge.
Ring did have a ballpark estimate for repair costs to fix the bad blacktop, although he cautioned that the actual cost would likely be much more.
“We’ve talked about basically two different ways to repair it,” Ring told the commissioners. “One would be paving it again, which would be probably a multimillion dollar expense, which neither the county or the Public Works Department feels would be a viable thing to do. The other choice we talked about was possibly taking it back to rock, gravel base like a lot of the county roads are.”
Ring described the road as badly deteriorated, pushing out on the sides in areas. A road that old and worn out can’t be patched anymore, he said, as overlay probably won’t adhere.
“You can’t just go down and take hot mix and find an area where there’s a hole the size of a basketball,” Ring said. “If you put material in it, it’ll last for a short time, but then it’ll start to come up. And once winter gets here you start to get the heaving and thawing and you start running snow plows, and it’s just going to tear it up even further.”
One contractor who looked at the road gave an informal estimate of $105,000 to mill up the road, essentially taking off 5 to 6 inches, then putting it back with a mix of rock.
“I personally take that road a lot,” said County Commissioner Dustin Roths, “and honestly it’s one of those, I kind of wonder why the heck we have a paved road out in the middle of nowhere, that we have to take care of. I definitely don’t think multiple millions of dollars are in our future to try and fix that problem.”
County Commissioner Butch Schlyer agreed.
“Look it over and bring us another opinion back of what you see when you drive the whole road from Ellis all the way to the county line,” Haselhorst told Ring.
“At some point that road was connecting a lot more people than it is now,” Roths added.
“It has a lot of traffic on it though,” said Haselhorst.
A Kansas Department of Transportation traffic count in April recorded 138 vehicles a day where the road approaches Rush County, Ring said. Previous traffic counts were in that same range, he said.
“It just so happens that the lady that was in the car accident on Friday night, her mother called me that morning and told me her concerns with that road,” Haselhorst said. “She’d like to see something happen with all the potholes on that road before somebody gets hurt, and now her daughter has an accident.”
Ellis County Deputy Joshua Gibson investigated the accident, which was called in just before 1 a.m. Sunday.
The driver, Abigail North, was southbound on Ellis Avenue about 9 miles south of Ellis. She fell asleep while driving, crossed over the centerline and entered the east ditch, then struck the concrete railing of the bridge, according to Gibson’s accident report.
North’s 2007 four-door, long-bed, F-350 pickup fell off the bridge, landing and coming to rest on its top, the report states.
“She was coming home from Homecoming,” Gibson said. “The vehicle landed on its roof and the engine compartment area went into the water.”
Gibson said the top caved as it landed, breaking all the vehicle glass. North crawled out the rear window, he said.
“This accident 10 out of 10 times is a fatality, she’s lucky to be alive,” Gibson said, noting that North has a GPS location-tracking app on her phone, Life360, that detected the crash and alerted her parents. “You could actually see where she started to fall asleep and crossed the road and then crashed,” on the app, he said.
The pickup fell about 15 to 20 feet to the creek bed below, Gibson said. North’s father, Travis North, called in the wreck.