by Frank DeLoache

CORNELIUS – Karl Roe and his family were sound asleep early Easter Sunday, April 24, when the impact shook their house and woke them. Then, they answered the pounding on their front door to find a man urging them to call 911 quickly.

In their yard, the front end of a Ford Expedition was bent around their 30-foot-tall oak tree. The driver was leaning against the steering wheel, unconscious and bleeding from a cut to his head.

In the midst of that turmoil, filled with the sirens and flashing lights of emergency vehicles, two words sprang to Roe’s mind: speed humps.

For more than a year, the residents of Westmoreland Lake Drive have watched with growing concern as traffic increased and the speed of many of those vehicles accelerated, seemingly oblivious to the many families living on the street and the “Caution! Children at Play!” signs throughout neighborhood. Last summer, the residents first approached Cornelius town officials with a request to help bring the traffic under control on the road that serves as the entrance to the Westmoreland community.

But almost a year later, the residents are still waiting for a report from the town staff, and they are frustrated with what Roe calls “excuses” for a lack of action. Later on Sunday, Roe emailed Town Manager Anthony Roberts to say, “It is a matter of time before someone gets killed. … This should be the last straw about our town government dragging their feet.”

In growing communities like Cornelius, Huntersville and Davidson, traffic often turns into big headaches – and threats – for residents as more subdivisions spring up around them. And they expect town officials to provide relief for their pain.

Right now, Cornelius officials have requests for “traffic calming” measures from the homeowners associations in Westmoreland Lake and Caldwell Station, according to Assistant Town Manager Andrew Grant, who is responsible for road and transportation issues. But Grant said his file of requests reaching back through the years is several inches thick.

Earlier this month, Huntersville commissioners approved two road humps along Sherwood Road after residents decried heavy traffic and speeding through the neighborhood. A list of neighborhoods that have requested speed humps was not immediately available.

Responding to Westmoreland Lake Drive residents’ calls, the Cornelius Police Department’s Traffic Unit has spent a lot of time on that street since October, said Capt. Jeff Ramsey, who supervises the unit. His records show the unit patrolled the street on three days in October and March, four days in December and one each in January, February and April.

But increasing patrols doesn’t provide a long-term solution to streets like Westmoreland Lake Drive, Roe said. Drivers only slow down when they see police cruisers. When cruisers aren’t evident, drivers accelerate again, he said.

The town also has placed a radar trailer on the road twice, to gather data about the traffic volume and speed, and Assistant Town Manager Andrew Grant said the staff will make recommendations to the residents and the Cornelius Board of Commissioners about traffic calming steps to address the problem.

The town’s response has been delayed, Grant acknowledged, because officials had trouble retrieving data from the radar trailer’s computer. But he said town officials are following a procedure the town board enacted in 2007 to create steps for residents to use when asking for help with traffic and guidelines that town officials will follow in deciding what action to take.

But Roe said his group has been through an administrative ringer. When he first called the town, an employee gave him a form to get signatures from 80 percent of residents on the street. He got 100 percent, but after giving the petition to town officials in August, he learned that because his community has a homeowners association, the board of the association would have to request speed humps or other traffic-slowing devices.

In November, Roe gave town officials the board’s formal endorsement, and since then, he’s been waiting for action.

Meanwhile, speeders still plague the street. Capt. Ramsey, head of the traffic unit, said he has data showing the average vehicle speed is 32 mph, more than 10 mph over the 20-mph posted limit.

According to Officer Christopher Josey’s report on the Sunday morning accident, Mark Jason Laughner, 34, of 9514 Cadman Court, Cornelius, was driving his 2007 Ford Expedition at 45 mph.

Josey noted the “odor of alcohol” on Laughner, and another driver said Laughner almost hit his car when he turned in the wrong side of the divided entrance to the subdivision.

Josey found no sign that Laughner braked before hitting a mailbox and the  tree.

Laughner was taken to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte for treatment and a blood-alcohol test. He was charged with driving while impaired and careless and reckless driving. Laughner did not respond to a Herald request for comment.

A hospital official said Tuesday, April 26, that Laughner was not a patient in the hospital.