Residents want change on deadly North Myrtle Beach road

Residents want change on deadly North Myrtle Beach road

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - If you've driven down Little River Neck Road you know it can be tricky to navigate. It's only two lanes, there are plenty of curves and the speed limit 35 miles per hour.  Dozens of drivers have crashed on the road over the years and this year alone, two of them were deadly.

Folks who live along the road say something needs to change.

It was just before 3 a.m. August 25 when 25-year-old Andrew Helmick lost control of his Ford Explorer, went off the side of the road, over-corrected and flipped twice before hitting Macedonia AME church where he died.

The highway patrol report states speed contributed to the accident. Helmick was doing 80 in the 35 mile per hour zone when it happened.

"Thank God it wasn't on a Sunday, because if it had been on a Sunday, God knows what would have happened," said Mary Stackhouse, a church member.

It's hard to dispute 45 miles over the limit is reason to consider the road the problem, but with so many other crashes, we wanted to see what else is going on.

A glimpse of the data going back to 2012 from Highway Patrol gives an idea.

There were 41 crashes since January of 2012.

There were four in that year, nine in 2013; 13 in 2014; seven in 2015 and eight to date so far this year.

The reports show drivers are crashing for all kinds of reasons including speed, failing to yield the right of away, distraction, even loads not being secured to the back of trailers sufficiently.

In December of 2014, a woman bent down to pick up something off the car floor while driving and when she looked back up, there was a deer in front of her car. She swerved and struck a tree.

In an October 2012 crash, a man lost control of his vehicle due to a medical condition and crashed into a mobile home where a family was inside. Fortunately no one was killed.

Sadly that wasn't case in another deadly accident May 19 that claimed the life of 21-year-old Hunter McKenzie. He had just finished up his shift at Ian's Bar and Grille. He was headed home around 11 p.m. when Highway Patrol reports he lost control of his car coming around a curve near Victoria Falls Lane and struck a tree. McKenzie was going 70 miles per hour. Today, stickers in memory of his life are all around the restaurant where he worked.

"Everybody was devastated. You know a kid who worked hard and they had just seen him the night before, you know, and then he was gone, " said Billy Riggs, the General Manager of the establishment.

Crashes are the reason residents are behind change. Cathy Weis is the president of the Tidewater Plantation Community Association. Her organization drafted a position paper and presented it to the city of North Myrtle Beach about six months ago. It includes everything from the history of the road, to population growth, and what they want changed.

"Certainly more police patrolling which we have seen more of it since this accident, certainly that, maybe better lighting on the road, maybe better widening on the road, definitely the shoulders it would make a huge difference," said Weis.

The City of North Myrtle Beach supports the group and even managed a paving project near Tidewater at one time, but the spokesperson for the city says getting upgrades done to the road is complex.

But Horry County and North Myrtle Beach leaders recognize the need for change.

That's' why the 'The Neck' is currently on Grand Strand Area Transportation Study's list of roads to be worked on.

They propose widening the road to three lanes with a multipurpose path in North Myrtle Beach and constructing a roundabout north of Hill St.

Mark Hoeweler, the Assistant Executive Director of the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study, says it would take about $5 million to accomplish that, but the problem is the road is on the organization's long term plan which forecasts all the way to the year 2040.

"As it stands right now, there are a considerable amount of projects that haven't been done that are ahead of that project on the list, said Hoeweler.

For now drivers will have to stay alert while out on 'the Neck' and officials say adhere to the rules of the road.

"Most of our serious accidents statewide are single-car, run-off-the-road kind of accidents. Most of those are personal behavior - maybe you're tired driving, impaired driving, those kinds of things," said Hoeweler.

Meanwhile, Macedonia AME has been trying to get back on its feet since the crash. The congregation has been holding church inside of it's cafeteria until the hole in the wall is repaired.

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