A six-vehicle fatal wreck Thursday has leaders in Surfside Beach pushing for a quicker elimination of the frontage road that runs along the southbound lanes starting at S.C. 544.
Residents and council members have complained about the dangers of the frontage road for years. In March, Town Council sent a letter to the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study to formally endorse a pair of projects that would widen the highway and eliminate the hazard.
Mayor Doug Samples hopes Thursday’s collision, which occurred just outside the town limits, can move the project higher on the priority list.
Area teen Cynthia Ayala died in the crash that occurred just after 5:30 p.m. when a silver sedan driven by a New Jersey man crossed two grass medians before colliding with Ayala’s car, according to the S.C. Highway Patrol.
Derek Fiore, 34, of Rutherford, N.J. was driving the car that inexplicably veered off frontage road to U.S. 17 business in Surfside Beach, crossing the southbound lanes and striking cars stopped for the traffic light at S.C. 544, said Brent Kelly, with SCHP.
Troopers still don’t know why Fiore crossed both medians and the wreck remains under investigation. Fiore was transported to Grand Strand Regional Medical Center where he is in good condition, said hospital spokeswoman Joan Carroza.
Terri Abel, who was on her way to work, and was a lane over and about two cars behind the incident, said she got out of her car moments after Fiore crashed.
She said when she saw Fiore’s in his car, “He was just shaking, shaking. He had dreads and they were shaking.”
It’s unclear whether charges will be filed.
Samples said, “For years we’ve had a terrible problem on our stretch of the highway.” he said. “How many more people have to be traumatized or die before those in authority over the highways respond to our needs?”
The proposed changes in the GSATS were initially scheduled for completion in 2035, but the town’s resolution aimed to move the Surfside Beach higher in the pecking order for possible completion by 2018.
The plans call first for the closure of median breaks, modification of intersections for u-turns and coordination of the traffic signals, costing $2 million. The second piece would widen U.S. 17 from four lanes to six with a center median and turn lanes, with a $6.4 million price tag.
Samples left Surfside Beach about 15 minutes before the wreck to attend a League of Cities meeting in Loris.
“It was backed up heading north, at least to 15th Avenue South,” he said. “It was just terrible.”
He returned around 10 p.m. to see “piles of metal that used to be automobiles.”
Mandi Shoemaker, of Myrtle Beach, was stopped a few cars behind the six involved and said the crash looked like “an explosion of smoke and car parts.”
She saw Fiore’s car traveling across the median at a high rate of speed becoming airborne as it bounced across the median at Ayala’s car.
“The car was a silver blur,” she said.
Shoemaker said Fiore appeared to be traveling 80 to 100 mph before the crash and she never saw any brake lights.
The problem with the frontage road is complex, Samples said. First, he said the traffic light for cars turning onto S.C. 544 is too short, which causes the traffic to back up into Surfside Beach.
The gridlock compounds with the confusion of the multiple exit points on the frontage road, some are at intersections of the highway, some just lead onto the southbound lanes.
Samples said the town simply needs more pavement to get rid of the “death trap.”
The Sun News reporter Steve Jones contributed to this report.
Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381.