Long crusade makes U.S. 42 safer

Wednesday, December 16, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

FLORENCE -- Five years after Charles Kearns' only son died in a car accident, he wears his clothes and high school class ring, and carries eight pictures of him inside his wallet.

It helps him grieve.

His 21-year-old son, Chuck, and friend Christopher Ellis died Nov. 23, 1993, in an accident near U.S. 42 and Grand Avenue.

A fatal accident last month on U.S. 42 has renewed Mr. Kearns' campaign to get the speed limit lowered from 40 mph and possibly have a traffic light installed. It's not enough, he said, that the speed limit has already been lowered from 45 mph.

But a state transportation cabinet spokeswoman said Tuesday there are no plans to study a lower speed limit.

Mr. Kearns' memories of his son's accident are vivid.

"It's like it just happened last night," he said Tuesday near the accident scene. "You learn to halfway get on with some kind of a life, but every time you read or hear of another tragedy, it affects you in ways you can't imagine.

"I hate it because I feel like I keep the family torn up because I won't let go," he said. "I just won't. I just can't. Chuck did not deserve what happened to him; nobody does."

On Sunday, Mr. Kearns planted white crosses with red bows at the site of his son's accident and nearby, where an accident last year claimed three lives. Earlier, he had a permanent marker installed with Chuck's and Christopher's names.

"I've had a lot of really good dreams about Chuck, and that's helped a lot," he said. Looking over several pictures of Chuck, Mr. Kearns talks about how his son was preparing to attend Northern Kentucky University. He says Chuck was a DJ at private parties and was interested in pursuing a career in radio.

"It's been some hard years. You're never going to get over him," said Chuck's cousin, Bernie Brown.

Last year, Mr. Kearns was among three dozen people who held a silent vigil in memory of their loved ones and friends who have died near or at the intersection since 1993.

Afterward, the participants attended a city council meeting. Mr. Kearns read aloud the names of the victims and gave city council a petition of more than 700 signatures, requesting a traffic light at the intersection. "I feel like there's a lot of people behind us," he said.

As a result, he plans to present his case again at a January city council meeting. "I talked to almost everybody who came to our house campaigning, and I told every one of them a story about my son. I told them as long as I was alive, I would never shut up about my son."

A near-tears Mr. Kearns said he's optimistic that one day the speed limit will be lowered or a traffic light installed. "I just hope it doesn't have to be another tragedy," he said.

Every day, he drives past his son's memorial. If he doesn't, he said, Chuck would somehow know.

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