Ripped-up grass and pieces of shattered plastic are scattered across a patch of Kathy Shuck’s yard. They are the remnants of a crash that occurred four months ago when a driver fell asleep at the wheel, missed a sharp curve and drove off U.S. Highway 59 straight into Shuck’s yard. He took out nearly 100 feet of fence before he stopped upside down in a nearby field.
Right after the accident, Shuck’s Pleasant Grove neighbors began taking bets on just how long the rebuilt fence would stay up. The low bet was 60 days.
The guess doesn’t seem that wild when Shuck tells you her fence has been hit more than 30 times.
“It’s a continuous job,” Shuck said of rebuilding it.
Shuck’s house sits off Highway 59 on a stretch of road that runs from Lawrence to Ottawa. The last home in the hamlet of Pleasant Grove, the home is at the top of a hill, at the start of a significant curve and right before a passing lane ends. Standing in her yard and watching the cars fly by, it’s easy to understand how cars that miss the curve land in Shuck’s yard.
“The accidents I’ve worked there generally involve inattention, speeding or alcohol, and just couple that with that curve,” Douglas County Undersheriff Steve Hornberger said. Shuck attributes most of the accidents to folks going too fast or being too drunk.
“If they just drove the speed limit we wouldn’t have any problems,” she said.
To be fair, Shuck has kept an eye on the fence for the past 60 years. Shuck grew up in the home, but that was when the road was a two-lane highway and not well-traveled.
“When I was young, they never hit the fence. We would put our feet on the fence and watch a car go by every five minutes,” she said.
Over the years that’s changed. What used to be an accident every two years turned into one once a year, and even that number seems to have grown.
She’s had two years in a row where cars came through the fence on Mother’s Day. One time she was planting flowers, heard a loud crash and looked up to see a car that had hit the fence and popped up into the air. It crashed upside down before she could move. When she did get up, Shuck ran to get a hose to help put out a fire that had broken out. Fortunately, a nurse and paramedic stopped to help the woman out of the car.
In the second-to-last accident, Shuck came outside to find a motorcyclist lying alongside the road without a helmet and barely breathing. He was taken away by an air ambulance.
“You never know who they are, and you don’t know what they will do,” Shuck said of the unexpected visitors who barrel through her fence.
But Shuck said she’s lucky if the driver sticks around. A lot of times, they try to flee the scene, leaving behind a broken fence and a costly bill.
Two years ago, Shuck turned a 2-and-a-half-foot-high boulder fence into one made of rock pillars with plastic white pickets in between.
She made sure it was a breakaway fence so when cars hit it, pieces would go flying, decreasing the chances of serious injury. She also designed it so the pieces would be easier to put back together, which she had to do three times since it went up.
“I built it the way it is so I can rebuild it, but I’m getting slower,” Shuck said. Sometimes her children or even the folks who hit the fence help her rebuild.
Despite the burden of rebuilding, Shuck said she doesn’t want to get rid of the fence, mainly because it’s a barricade between her home and the road.
Shuck said her family has talked to the Kansas Department of Transportation about putting up a guardrail. But the state agency told her the guardrail would be too dangerous because it could throw cars back into the flow of traffic.
When KDOT opens the expanded U.S. Highway 59, Shuck hopes traffic will be diverted away from the road that runs by her house. But she has her doubts.
“It is hard to say. A lot of it is drunks. And you figure with the other highway, they are going to stay on this road so they don’t get caught,” she said.
She’s offered law enforcement officers the chance to sit in her yard to nab speeders. The speed limit through Pleasant Grove is posted as 40 miles per hour, but Shuck said most cars go 60.
“All I ask is for drivers to slow down,” she said.