Serious injury crash the last straw for Pete Shaw Road residents

(From l-r) Nikkie Grzelka, John Huey, Ron Gaynor, Michael Thornton, Brad Grzelka, Eugene Williams and Diane Downs hope the most recent accident at this curve will bring much needed safety improvements to Pete Shaw Road.(From l-r) Nikkie Grzelka, John Huey, Ron Gaynor, Michael Thornton, Brad Grzelka, Eugene Williams and Diane Downs hope the most recent accident at this curve will bring much needed safety improvements to Pete Shaw Road.(photo by Rebecca Gaunt)

By Rebecca Gaunt

When Brad and Nikkie Grzelka bought their house on Pete Shaw Road five years ago, a friend asked how they would ever meet their neighbors now that they didn’t live in a neighborhood. At the time, Nikkie never expected the answer to be a blind curve in the road outside her house.

On April 11, she heard the familiar sound of squealing tires and barely gave it a thought. It was the sound of an impact that brought her running outside and prompted her to call 911. A grey SUV had come around the curve too fast, crossed into oncoming traffic and hit a small red car head on.

Neighbors who helped at the scene reported the driver of the car was taken for medical treatment, as was the passenger in the SUV. Nikkie said she was immediately concerned for the young woman in the SUV, who displayed bruising on her abdomen where the seat belt rested. Long after she’d been taken away in the ambulance and the accident site cleared, Nikkie wondered how she was doing. The Grzelkas also realized their security camera had captured high quality video of the accident which they turned over to the police.

This wasn’t the first time an accident brought the residents of Pete Shaw Road, near Regas Drive, running. According to neighbors who spoke with the Courier, it’s a regular occurrence, and Nikkie says it’s how they all got to know each other.

Two teenagers walk on the shoulder of Pete Shaw. Nikki Grzelka sees Lassiter students out walking frequently and encourages them to walk in her yard where it’s safer. (photo by Rebecca Gaunt)

Ron Gaynor has lived there for 18 years and said he once used a four-wheeler to help pull a family in a van out of a gully when the father lost control. Fortunately, no one was hurt and the driver returned with thank you gifts a couple weeks later. Gaynor took the issue to a Cobb Board of Commissioners meeting several years ago, where he said a county official remarked it was “duly noted.”

Diane Downs has lived there for 30 years, and though she said it was always bad, it has only gotten worse as the population grew. Her husband previously reached out to county officials asking for stop signs, but was told after a study, that “stop signs don’t slow people down.”

She said the yellow curve caution signs were added and one of the neighborhoods received a blinking light that warns drivers if someone is coming before they pull out, but “that doesn’t help the people on the road.”

“We’ve been frustrated for many years,” Downs said. “At least, perhaps, try [stop signs].”

View trying to turn left from Pete Shaw onto Steinhauer. Trees make it difficult to see and some residents would like to see it become a three-way stop. (photo courtesy of Nikkie Grzelka)

Pete Shaw Road gets a significant amount of traffic since it connects Steinhauer Road and Sandy Plains. Nikkie says she is terrified of the thought of a dump truck one day meeting a school bus from Lassiter High School, which sits at the corner of Pete Shaw and Steinhauer. Neighbors also said students driving their own cars don’t help the situation when it comes to speed.

Downs once comforted a teenage girl who went off the road and scared herself so badly she said, “she was never coming this way again.” Fortunately, like the van, this was another incident in which the driver was able to go on her way uninjured.

The mother of the hurt woman in the SUV from April 11 ended up reaching out to the Grzelkas on Facebook a few days later after getting their names from the police report.

Her daughter, Devon Reynolds, is a 21-year-old cosmetology student. Her boyfriend was the driver of the car that crossed into oncoming traffic. She suffered serious injuries, according to her stepfather Michael Thornton, who is the only person in the family to have viewed the video of the accident.

She has already had two surgeries, with a third planned, received 17 pints of blood, lost 70 percent of her intestines, which were severed, and lost part of her colon. She will spend the next year homebound on a feeding tube before she goes to Pittsburgh for an intestinal transplant. She also ruptured an artery in her neck.

On Thursday Thornton came to meet the people who responded to the accident and see the road for himself. He’s angry that the driver of the SUV his daughter was in was going so fast, but of the road he said, “This is the first time I’ve seen it and I can see why. This is a horrible blind curve.”

Thornton hopes this is the wake up call the county needs to do something to make the road safer.

Devon Reynolds, 21, faces a long recovery from her injuries. (Photo courtesy of Michael Thornton)

Eugene Williams has lived there for 12 years. When asked how many incidents he has seen, he said six or seven, “but some I’d forgotten until I heard [the neighbors] talking.”

John Huey is a 20-year resident and recalled the time a driver came around a curve too fast and hit a tree in the yard very close to where he was standing.

Nikkie said a pedestrian from a nearby neighborhood survived being hit a couple years ago. There are no sidewalks along this stretch of road. She also shared a photo of a car from another incident flipped upside down in a ditch and a video of a car going off the road into a tree that was captured by a neighbor’s camera.

Cobb Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, who is over this part of the county, responded to a neighbor’s email this week saying she was submitting the request for stop signs to the DOT, deploying speed trailers and requesting crash data.

The residents who spoke with the Courier stressed that while this curve is a source of many problems, the entire road needs to be looked at. Landscape overgrowth where Pete Shaw and Steinhauer intersect impedes visibility, making a left turn onto Steinhauer very difficult. There are no stop signs on Steinhauer, so drivers coming from Pete Shaw have to edge their way out carefully. They would also like to see the addition of a left turn arrow from Sandy Plains onto Pete Shaw.

The Courier has submitted an open records request for crash data on Pete Shaw Road.

The family has set up a GoFundMe for Devon’s medical expenses.

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.