Three weeks after a fatal car crash on County Road 39 effectively shut down the South Fork for an entire day, Southampton Town officials are beginning to implement tools to notify drivers of similar major accidents in the future, hoping to avoiding massive gridlock in the future.
Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said Tuesday that the State Department of Transportation agreed to loan the town four portable electronic road signs that can be programmed to notify drivers of accidents and road closures, similar to those used along the Long Island Expressway, at no cost for the remainder of the summer.
Two signs will be positioned along Sunrise Highway, one near its terminus in Shinnecock Hills and the other near the town’s Eastport border to the west, while the other two will be utilized elsewhere as deemed necessary, according to Ms. Throne-Holst.
“They’re going to start out letting us use them Memorial Day through Labor Day, and if we feel they’re necessary, we will look into using them year-round,” she said, adding that she expects them to be in place within the next week.
On Tuesday morning, several town officials sat in on an hour-long presentation by the Emergency Communications Network, a Florida-based company that provides the CodeRED emergency alert system used by Suffolk County. During the presentation, company representatives demonstrated how the service could be used to notify local residents of car accidents, road closures and other events in order to warn drivers before they are stuck in massive traffic jams, Deputy Town Supervisor Frank Zappone said.
After a similar but non-fatal crash on County Road 39 caused massive traffic congestion last summer, Southampton Town joined Suffolk County’s CodeRED service, Ms. Throne-Holst said. However, Suffolk County’s alerts are limited to large-scale incidents, such as severe weather warnings and evacuation notices—which is why the town is looking into obtaining its own service, the supervisor explained.
Mr. Zappone sat in on the presentation with other officials, including Town Councilwomen Christine Scalera and Bridget Fleming, and Town Comptroller Leonard Marchese, among others. Mr. Zappone said they were impressed by the system’s ability to utilize email, text messaging, social media and traditional telephone land lines to deliver the traffic alerts.
“We certainly like what we see, we certainly have the need, but we don’t know what the parameters would be for getting this set up in the town,” he said.
Mr. Zappone said the software for the system could be installed in a day, though it would take much longer to get people signed up to receive the alerts, which would be free.
He also could not venture an estimation about how much the system would cost the town, but said Emergency Communications Network would give the town a figure in writing likely before the end of the week.
During her weekly radio appearance on WPBB-FM last Thursday morning, August 8, Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst stated that the fatal crash that took place on County Road 39 on July 25, killing 29-year-old Carissa Castillo of Shirley, was caused by texting while driving—though Town Police said this week that they have not yet determined what caused the accident.
Town Police Detective Sergeant Lisa Costa said nothing has been confirmed other than the fact that Ms. Castillo was driving recklessly the morning when her SUV crossed the double yellow lines and collided head-on with a Hampton Jitney bus that was carrying no passengers. Ms. Castillo was on her way to work at the Hampton Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Southampton.
“Right now, the contributing factors are under investigation,” Sgt. Costa said. “We did corroborate the fact she was driving recklessly, and she was late for work. Everything else, we don’t have information on at this point to corroborate.”
Ms. Throne-Holst said Tuesday that she was told the incident likely was related to texting while driving by a source whom she declined to identify. She also acknowledged that she did not convey the status of the investigation accurately.
“Perhaps the way I worded it on the radio was more certain than it should have been, or too conversational,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “We’re still waiting on the official word from the cellphone company.”
The supervisor noted that obtaining the phone records is taking longer than usual, because the accident has not been labeled a crime. She said the cellphone company, which she did not know the name of, should turn over its records within the next week to 10 days.