ONEONTA, Ala. (WIAT) — New information has been revealed regarding a fatal crash that killed a Blount County student earlier this month.
After obtaining the accident report, we have now learned that the driver who hit and killed a 15-year-old boarding her school bus along U.S. Highway 231 was “driving too fast for the conditions” and “blinded by sun glare” when he approached the bus stop.
The accident happened around 7:15 a.m. on Oct. 5. According to the report, Tyler Gillilan, 31, was approaching the bus from the opposite direction. The bus had stopped, but there was a pickup truck in front of him slowing for the bus.
According to the report, Gillilan had to swerve to avoid a collision with that pickup truck which caused him to lose control and overcorrect, then hit the girl entering the bus before colliding with her front porch.
A man who lives along this same stretch of road on the Blount County side worries the speed limit is too high.
He called CBS 42 after several fatal wrecks on Highway 231 and asked us to investigate the problem.
When you drive along U.S. Highway 231 in Blount County, it gets narrow at times as you navigate twists and turns – only a guardrail for protection from a steep drop. The hilly terrain makes it easy to pick up speed.
After Carmen Lopez was killed while waiting for her school bus, Doug Vargas knew he had to speak up.
Lopez’s home now has signs of prayers for justice covering the house.
“The family will never be the same and it was due to speed,” Vargas said. “I can’t imagine what that family’s going through.”
It’s a deadly battle he faces daily, whether it’s turning out of his own driveway or leaving the Tip Top One Stop.
“My son got hit he came out of that on,” Vargas said. “If it would have hit another two feet forward, it would have T-boned him. I don’t know what would have happened to him.”
The main stretch of road that Vargas is concerned about is Highway 231 from the St. Clair County line to the City of Oneonta. Crosses, tire tracks, skid marks and busted guard rails – evidence left behind of bad wrecks.
Vargas has lived in the area for 14 years. Between 2009 and 2021 – the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System marked eight fatal accidents and nine deaths, not including others we’ve reported on since.
“That’s death,” Vargas said. “What about the ones that are injured?”
The speed limit is 55, and Vargas would like to see it be lowered to 45.
Blount County District Three Commissioner Bradley Harvey said he came up on a fatal accident not too long after he took office.
“We’re well aware of it,” Harvey said. “I travel this road with my children, and I’m concerned for their safety and everybody else’s safety.”
CBS 42’s Jen Cardone asked Harvey if lowering the speed is possible.
“You would think that lowering the speed will solve most of the problems but in reality, it doesn’t solve every single problem,” Harvey said.
Vargas is asking for anything to help.
“If it saves one life, that’s a plus,” Vargas said.
Harvey says the county is working with ALDOT to try and do a study on the road. He is interested in seeing a left turn lane to help. Vargas was once an engineer and says sign installation is not that expensive, but expanding the road would be.
CBS 42 repeatedly attempted to get data from the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) on the number of fatalities along U.S. 231 in this area for 2022 and 2023 and was told those numbers have not been finalized. The Blount County Sheriff’s Office told us that it does not work serious and fatal accidents, rather, ALEA handles those investigations.
You can read the Drive Safe Alabama 2021 report here.