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Concerned citizens create petition calling for changes to deadly Ranger Hill

By Jenna Rogers, Reporter, jrogers@ktxs.com
Published On: Oct 25 2013 10:01:58 AM CDT
Updated On: Nov 21 2013 01:55:08 PM CST
EASTLAND, Texas -

There have already been 31 accidents and 7 fatalities on Interstate 20 at Ranger Hill this year, and it's considered by many to be the most deadly area for drivers between Abilene and the Metroplex.

A new petition brought forward by a group of concerned Eastland County citizens is aiming to change that.

"There have been accidents that have left people changed forever," said Jessica Vickery, who helped create the online petition at Change.org.

Mitch Riffle is one of those people. He suffered a traumatic brain injury in June 2012 after he was hit from behind by a truck and rolled down an embankment. He spent seven months in the hospital, and still goes to therapy five days a week.

"We're scared to death to go by there," said his wife, Kay Riffle. "So many people have died on it. So many people have been injured. Lifelong injuries, like Mitch."

Riffle's story is one reason Joni Kellar initiated the petition.

"It was just on my heart to do something," said Kellar. "We had to get something started."

More than 1,500 people had signed the online petition Friday afternoon, and it only went up Wednesday. There are also dozens of paper petitions circulating throughout the community.

In 2011, there were 23 accidents reported on the stretch of I-20 known as Ranger Hill. In 2012, there were 26. In 2013, through October 21, there have been 31. And there have been seven fatalities already.

One of those fatalities happened less than two weeks ago.

"It took the love of my life," said Mason Harris.

Virgina Hutto, 24, became the latest victim of the steep curve Monday, October 14, 2013.

"I just don't want people to hurt the way me and her family and friends have hurt," said Harris. "I don't want people to go through that. That's why I'm pushing to get something done."

The group is pushing to change the section of curvy highway that 18,000 drivers travel every day. Many people who drive through the area are unfamiliar with the steep grade and curvature; but the first goal is to change the speed limit from 75 to 55.

"Something needs to be done now," said Harris. "And changing that speed limit could save someone's life now."

"I haven't come across one person yet that doesn't believe in this change," said Kellar.

TxDOT released a statement that said safety is the top priority, and that the department is working on short and long term safety improvements to the hill.

Currently, there is a 33-inch high barrier separating traffic. TxDOT is planning on installing a new 54-inch high concrete barrier to prevent drivers from crossing the median.

They are also analyzing a speed study in the area to determine whether a lower speed limit could help cut down on crashes.

Eastland County Judge Rex Fields told KTXS he spoke to Deputy Executive Director for TxDOT, John Barton, Friday morning. Barton said the barrier they are planning to resurrect will likely be in place by spring of 2014.

A meeting in November will decide whether the speed limit at Ranger Hill will be reduced. If the measure is adopted, the new limit could be enforced as early as December.

If you want to sign the petition online, click here. There will also be sign-ups this weekend at Higginbotham Brothers in Eastland and Cowpokes Convenience Store in Cisco Saturday starting at 8 a.m., as well as at the Bealls parking lot in Eastland starting at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

Jessica Vickery is working to put together a memorial for the victims of Ranger Hill, as well as getting a day named after them for the town of Eastland.