WESTMINSTER, Colo. — The city of Westminster is trimming back a “Frankenstein juniper” bush after a driver said it obstructed his view and caused him to crash last month.
“If that bush was not there, the accident would not have happened,” said Cliff Slocum, the driver who caused a two-car collision near the interchange of Federal Boulevard and U.S. 36 in Westminster.
The FOX31 Problem Solvers brought the case to the city of Westminster after Slocum contacted FOX31.
“It’s horrifying. I would have been devastated to have lost my boy,” said Slocum, whose 11-year-old child, Matthew Bisco, was riding in the vehicle during the crash.
Slocum said the traffic light at the intersection was not cycling properly on Nov. 11, 2019, when he was trying to make a left turn on U.S. 36 from his southbound Federal Boulevard lane. A police officer who responded to the scene also noted in his report that the light, which is maintained by the Colorado Department of Transportation, “was not changing properly.”
“It was not cycling at all. I’m going to say we were there 10-15 minutes, and people were running the light because it was not changing,” said Slocum, who received a citation for the crash.
He said he had nowhere else to go in traffic, so he “gunned” it. However, he ended up turning left in front of an oncoming car. Marco Torres, the northbound driver, could not avoid striking Slocum’s truck with his.
“He had such a sharp turn, and it was just right in front of me,” said Torres. “I’ve never hit the brakes so hard in my life.”
Torres still suffers from pain in his neck and back, and his car was totaled. However, he was not seriously injured.
Slocum said he could not see through the large bush that had been planted in the median. Although the traffic signal is maintained by the state, the landscaping in the area is maintained by the city of Westminster.
“We don’t know if it’s a juniper (bush) on steroids or the wrong species was planted there,” said Aric Otzelberger, the operations manager for community development in the city of Westminster. Otzelberger called the Juniper a “Frankenstein” plant as he was describing the overgrown bush.
Typically, large obstructions are restricted in traffic zones called “sight triangles,” according to Logan Morley, a spokesperson for the city of Westminster.
“A sight triangle is evaluated at locations where a vehicle is expected to cross or turn onto a public street without the aid of a traffic signal requiring the opposing vehicles to stop prior to said movement,” he said in an email to FOX31.
However, the median located near Slocum’s crash is not considered a “sight triangle,” because the left turn is supposed to be “protected” by a traffic light.
“Vehicles should not be turning left unless there is a green arrow and the northbound traffic is stopped,” Morley said.
“While technically there isn’t a traffic engineering safety issue there, it will certainly improve visibility to take that juniper (bush) out,” Otzelberger said.
Otzelberger said because safety is a top priority, the city decided for the bush to be trimmed.
“Outreach and engagement is something we are always striving to improve upon in the city,” he said. “Just glad that (Slocum’s) OK. Sounds like it was a scary incident to go through something like that, and just appreciate him raising the issue, and it sounds like there’s something we can do about it.”
The Problem Solvers, meanwhile, obtained a CDOT work order showing a crew conducted “traffic signal maintenance and repair” near Federal Boulevard and U.S. 36 on the day after the crash.
“Went to check both North and South ramps at Federal and US36 to make sure the detection and loops were detecting traffic,” the work order indicated. “There was some construction on the medians recently. The South ramp loops for Phase 1 were a little short, so I extended them slightly to make sure they would operate correctly.”