Family says W. Richland intersection unsafe

WEST RICHLAND — A family is voicing safety concerns about a West Richland intersection the day after a deadly crash that claimed a mother of seven and grandmother of 20.

Connie Walser, 65, was on her way to church Sunday morning from South Highlands Boulevard when she was struck by a pickup driving east on Keene Road.

Walser's daughter, Shelly Burt, said she thinks her mom would have been turning left onto Keene Road -- Walser was headed to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just down the road -- but West Richland police still are investigating whether Walser was turning or going straight across Keene.

Nearly all the family had been at church at the time of the crash and were notified by officers there, Burt said.

Walser's white Pontiac Grand Am was hit on the passenger side and Walser, who did not appear to be wearing a seat belt, died at the scene, said West Richland Sgt. Scott Bravo.

The impact from the collision sent the truck spinning and its driver, Brett Young, was thrown from the driver's side window, Bravo said. Young, who also was not wearing his seat belt, and his wife, Lacey, were treated at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland.

Investigators with West Richland police, the Benton County Sheriff's Office and the Washington State Patrol spent about 4 1/2 hours at the accident scene Sunday and technical investigators with the sheriff's office are expected back out there Friday.

They will be measuring the crash scene to try to determine the speed of both vehicles to help figure out what happened, said West Richland Police Chief Brian McElroy.

Preliminary information indicates Walser failed to yield to the Youngs' truck, but McElroy said they don't yet know if Walser stopped at the stop sign first, then pulled out in front of the truck.

Bravo said officers also plan to interview the Youngs again in a couple of days, but on Sunday, Brett Young told police that he saw a flash of white, then they hit.

Burt said residents in the nearby neighborhood say that intersection is dangerous with motorists on South Highlands having to cross traffic on Keene Road that is traveling 50 mph.

"I've lived here 18 years. It used to be a dead end. Most people were just used to turning right (from Keene) onto South Highlands," Burt said. "Some people don't know that people are coming from that direction at 50 mph ... and they go faster than 50 if they're coming from Benton City."

Burt said the area along Keene Road has built up so much in recent years that she thinks a traffic light, or at least a four-way stop, is needed.

"It's super busy now," she said.

But West Richland police and city officials say that intersection hasn't surfaced as a trouble spot.

Public Works Director Roscoe Slade said the city conducts annual traffic counts at different intersections throughout the city and relies on a state standard to determine when traffic signals are warranted. The Keene-South Highlands intersection doesn't warrant a traffic signal and isn't on any list to need one in the near future, he said.

"We look at each of these accidents and work with the police department to determine if it's a correctable accident," Slade said. "We are investigating (Sunday's wreck). The police department and public works are working to identify the cause to see if there is something that needs to be done there."

Sgt. Bravo said the crash data shows two crashes at that intersection in the past two years -- not counting Sunday's fatal accident. Both of the previous crashes were caused by driver inattention and were "very preventable," he said.

Walser's daughter said her family still has a lot of questions about what happened Sunday, but they're "thankful that there weren't any other fatalities."

Burt said her mother and father have been married 44 years and they moved to the Tri-Cities this past summer to be closer to their children and grandchildren. Three of the seven kids live in the Tri-Cities, with a fourth living in Yakima.

Walser was a retired hairdresser, a career that Burt and her sister, Shannon Gammon, followed. Burt said her parents lived close to Wiley Elementary School -- which is a half-mile from the crash scene -- and the grandchildren who went to school there would stop by the house every day to visit with her.

"Her grandkids are missing her like crazy," Burt said. "She was their best friend. ... The teenage boys are really having a hard time too because they all loved talking to her. She was a fun mom and a fun grandma."

* Paula Horton: 509-582-1556; phorton@tricityherald.com