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Madison Co.: Norris Road 'perfect storm' for crashes

By Jordan Moore, KTVM Reporter, jmoore@ktvm.com
Published On: May 15 2014 07:08:20 PM MDT
Updated On: May 15 2014 09:17:44 PM MDT
NORRIS, Mont. -

Madison County authorities released the names of the two people killed in a Wednesday afternoon crash along Norris Road. According to the Montana Highway Patrol, a sport utility vehicle driven by an 80-year-old Ennis woman drifted into oncoming traffic right around 4:15 p.m. The SUV hit a minivan driven by a couple from Idaho.

Madison County officials say 78-year-old Herbert Petersen died at the scene.  His 75-year-old wife Jacqueline was taken to Bozeman Deaconess Hospital. She died after arriving. MHP is investigating what caused the Ennis woman to cross the center line.

Norris Rd. is a 30-mile stretch of state highway that runs between Four Corners and the small town of Norris. It follows the Madison River, and at times is narrow and winding. Since May of last year, five people have died in crashes on Norris Rd. The crash on Wednesday is the second deadly crash in the last seven months.

Wednesday afternoon we spent the day in the Norris area, and spoke to Madison County Undersheriff Roger Thompson.

"You will cross the center line if you are not paying attention," said Thompson.

Within 30 minutes of talking to Thompson about inattentive driving, he made a stop near the site of Wednesday's fatal crash. The man he pulled over claimed he needed to use the restroom, and was swerving in and out of the center line.

"It was just another example of he was in such a hurry that he started to forget about what his driving was, and the fatality we had yesterday was a fatality that had crossed the center line," said Thompson.

Thompson tells us it is not only the behavior of the drivers, but it is also the nature of the road. In Four Corners on Wednesday morning we also met with Kevin McDonough. He owns Big Boys Toys All Terrain Rentals and also knows just how dangerous the road can be.

"The speed's a little probably high, at 70 miles per hour, and if you are not paying a bit of attention at 70 miles per hour, a two-lane road can be dangerous," said McDonough.

His customers travel Norris Rd. daily, looking to recreate along the Madison. McDonough showed us a map of the route he will be shuttling river-goers back and forth this summer. Part of his shuttle service was planned keeping the dangers of Norris Rd. in mind.

"It's trying to take more cars off the road to make it a little bit safer and give people the opportunity to take one vehicle instead of two," said McDonough.

Back with Thompson we pulled off just a few miles from Norris. It is one of the areas where the road gets windy, and the speed limit drops, a place that could potentially catch drivers off-guard.

"It starts narrowing down and the roadway narrows and now you have a number of curves to contend with," said Thompson.

We also contacted the Montana Department of Transportation to see if they have studied this road, or plan to make any changes. District Administrator Jeff Ebert says they reviewed Norris Road last year. Because of the number of crashes, they plan to add center line rumble strips along certain stretches of the road within the next two years.