Intersection of fatal Dubuque Co. crash has history of danger - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Intersection of fatal Dubuque Co. crash has history of danger

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A "No Passing Zone" sign obscures a stop sign at the intersection of Hartbecke and East Pleasant Grove roads in Dubuque County A "No Passing Zone" sign obscures a stop sign at the intersection of Hartbecke and East Pleasant Grove roads in Dubuque County
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DUBUQUE COUNTY (KWWL) - Records from the Iowa Department of Transportation show the Dubuque County intersection where four boys died on Saturday has a history of crashes.

According to both the Iowa DOT and the Dubuque County Sheriff's Office, the intersection of Hartbecke and East Pleasant Grove roads in Dubuque County has seen three crashes in the last 10 years, not including Saturday's incident. None of those three crashes involved fatalities, but all of them were caused by a driver failing to either stop or yield at a stop sign.

On Saturday afternoon, according to the Dubuque County Sheriff's Office, 24-year-old Joe Connolly was driving a diesel pickup truck hauling a horse trailer, which was carrying three horses at the time. He was heading south on Hartbecke Road, when he failed to stop at the East Pleasant Grove Road intersection's stop sign. 

He then hit a Gator UTV, which was carrying four 14-year-old boys and traveling east on East Pleasant Grove Road. All four of the boys died, and Connolly's two passengers were injured. One of the horses in the trailer also died.

While the community mourns this loss, people are also seeking answers.

KWWL asked Capt. Dale Snyder with the Dubuque County Sheriff's Office whether drunk or distracted driving was involved. At the site of the crash Tuesday afternoon, he said only that the matter remains under investigation and he has no new information to release to the public.

Suzette Smith, however, is speaking up. She's a longtime neighbor and friend to the Connolly family and said Joe Connolly is devastated for the boys' families and for the entire situation.

While many people are asking how it's possible Connolly failed to stop at the stop sign, Smith said road sign placement may have played a role in the crash.

"I think there might be circumstances of why he didn't see the stop sign," she said Tuesday afternoon at the site of the crash.

She said a "No Passing Zone" sign facing northbound traffic obscures the stop sign Connolly allegedly failed to obey.

"The view was blocked by another sign," Smith said. "Pulling a trailer, I don't think he probably would've had an adequate time to stop his trailer before striking the other vehicle."

KWWL drove the path, several times, Connolly took Saturday afternoon, as he approached the intersection heading south on Hartbecke Road. Drivers heading south do pass a "Stop Ahead" sign, but -- sure enough -- cresting the hill, the actual stop sign is obstructed for a matter of seconds while approaching the intersection.

Exactly how obstructed the stop sign is depends on how fast a driver is traveling and how high in the vehicle the driver is seated.

Still, Smith said, she hopes the possibility of sign obstruction makes people consider another perspective.

"Perhaps someone can look at it as a different view, that perhaps that is what could've happened," Smith said, "that it wasn't just kids out on a Saturday afternoon driving recklessly and intentionally ran a stop sign."

Smith said while she has spoken with the Connolly family since the incident, she has not spoken directly with Joe Connolly or asked him whether sign obstruction played a role in the crash.

Dennis Kleen is manager of the Iowa DOT's Fatality Analysis Reporting System. He said of the three crashes that happened at that intersection between 2004 and 2013, two involved running or failing to yield at the very same stop sign for which Connolly allegedly failed to stop. The other crash involved running the stop sign on Hartbecke Road in the northbound lane.

It "happens a lot in rural areas," Kleen said, adding there's often not a lot of traffic at these intersections.

It is not clear whether Connolly was familiar with that stretch of Hartbecke Road.

Dubuque County engineer Bret Wilkinson said his office is looking into the spacing of the signs at the intersection, according to the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Design. He said the county is the entity that would have placed those road signs.

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