Many readers were no doubt disturbed by a story from Press staff writer Becky Campbell last week that raises some questions about traffic lights in Johnson City. One in particular: Are the traffic signals functioning properly?
The issue surfaced following the death of Burrell Mitchell, 39, of Johnson City who was killed in May when police say a pickup truck driven by 19-year-old Seth Green of Bluff City turned into the path of Mitchell’s motorcycle. Green has been charged with reckless homicide and aggravated reckless assault.
Johnson City Police Lt. Larry Williams says Green was making a left turn from State of Franklin Road onto West Walnut Street while Mitchell was in oncoming traffic on State of Franklin. Green told investigators there was a green light at the time that turned to a green arrow, giving him the right of way.
A local resident who uses that intersection frequently told the Press he and his wife have experienced the same thing Green reported, and have nearly been hit by oncoming traffic.
“I’ve seen it at least twice myself and my wife has seen it twice,” Patrick Costello said.
Police first indicated the light sequence at that intersection does not go in the order Green reported. Investigators have since clarified that information, but say a green arrow would indicate the oncoming traffic has a red light. Police still say there’s no indication the lights malfunctioned at the time of the fatal accident.
And as Campbell reported on July 8, statements from other witnesses of the crash — including the driver directly behind Green — don’t support the defendant’s account of what happened. Investigators were hoping to get a definitive look at what really transpired that day from the RedFlex traffic camera installed there to snap photographs of red-light violators. Authorities thought the camera was inoperative at the time (which raises another question concerning the reliability of these traffic cameras), but some data was pulled off the camera’s hard drive.
We would hope city traffic engineers will do a thorough check of the traffic light sequence at this intersection, as well as others that have been cited as trouble spots.
We also urge motorists who think they have seen something not quite right with a traffic light in Johnson City to contact city traffic officials at 434-6000 and let them know about it.