FRESNO COUNTY, California (KSEE) — An effort to widen a stretch of Highway 41 in Fresno County is gaining momentum, the section between Elkhorn and Excelsior avenues continues to play host to fatal crashes.
Neighboring communities are fed up – and are demanding change. Their message is getting louder.
The most recent deadly crash took place Tuesday night on Highway 41 near Harlan Avenue, when a 23-year-old man died. California Highway Patrol arrested Amber Sexton, 33, and charged her with felony driving under the influence of drugs.
Hearing about this incident was especially tough for Misty Atkins.
“It just breaks my heart knowing that so many families are feeling this hurt,” she said.
Her husband, Ken Atkins, also died in a crash in September and it was just a couple miles north on Highway 41 from where Tuesday’s crash took place. Ken Atkins was on his way to work at Lemoore Naval Air Station.
“We were going to grow old together – like I finally met the guy…and he was taken too soon,” Misty Atkin said.
For Misty Atkin’s cousin, Lorna Roush, it was the last straw. Roush has heard of crash after crash on the nearly 6.5-mile stretch of Highway 41 over the years and seen no changes. It’s where the highway merges into one lane in each direction.
Roush made a Facebook group called Widen 41 to get the community rallied together. She also got in contact with Fresno County Supervisor Buddy Mendes and Assemblyman Jim Patterson to get Caltrans to make some changes to this section of the highway.
“[Caltrans] can prevent these accidents. We need them to focus [on this section],” Roush said. “We’re going to humanize these accidents – no more statistics, no more numbers, no more dates.”
The group has grown to nearly 2,000 members and many have posted stories of lost loved ones to deadly accidents on the highway.
Roush also put up signs at Elkhorn and Excelsior avenues, urging drivers to slow down and not pass other vehicles. There are also signs showing what happened to Ken Atkins’ car after the accident, with the hashtag #kennywaynestrong.
For Misty Atkins, she hopes her tragedy helps prevent the next one.
“I have that faith and that hope that he’s up there and he’s doing bigger things. I just want to back him, because he was really the love of my life and I just didn’t get long enough,” she said.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Widen 41 group, click here for the Facebook page.