Fatal Wellington crash: Is more lighting needed on South Shore?

5:54 p.m Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017 Local
A memorial has been set up along South Shore Boulevard in Wellington near the spot where 19-year-old Dana McWilliams and 21-year-old Christian Kennedy were killed in a crash on Saturday night. (Kristina Webb / The Palm Beach Post)

As 19-year-old Dana McWilliams sped south along South Shore Boulevard in Wellington about 11:30 p.m. Saturday, she passed Mallet Hill, the neighborhood where Bill Gates keeps a home and barn.

She and her passengers — 21-year-old Christian Kennedy of Iowa in the front seat and 24-year-old Elaine O’Halloran of Wellington in the back — then passed the old Wellington Boys and Girls Club.

They then passed the Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Station — the last building, and the last street light, before McWilliams lost control of her 2013 Chevy Camaro,. The vehicle vaulted across South Shore’s median and into a copse of trees on the opposite side of the road, coming to rest several hundred feet from where the crash began, according to a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office report.

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The call to Fire Rescue came at 11:34 p.m. with crews getting to the scene four minutes later, Fire Rescue spokesman Capt. Albert Borroto said. When first responders arrived, McWilliams and Kennedy were dead. O’Halloran, the only person in the car wearing a seat belt, was taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach where she remained in critical condition Thursday, a hospital spokesman said.

In the wake of the crash, some have raised concerns about the lighting along the curved stretch of South Shore where the crash occurred. There is a street light outside the Fire Rescue station, then another about 1,500 feet south at South Shore’s intersection with Southfields Way.

Between that, there is darkness, with ambient light from homes on the east side of the road providing a bit of illumination.

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Concerns about the lack of lighting on the stretch have been discussed on social media, as well as in emails to The Palm Beach Post. Wellington’s Assistant Village Manager Jim Barnes said his office has received one inquiry into lighting at the crash site since the incident. But the lighting there is part of an overall design — including landscaping — configured to make drivers slow down through the village’s Equestrian Preserve, Barnes said.

The village is not considering adding more lighting there, he added, saying what exists there now is consistent with “the rural nature of the community” in the preserve.

Over the years in Wellington, lighting has been added in a sort of ad hoc fashion as more neighborhoods are built. “There’s not really a local standard for roadway lighting,” he said, adding that some county code requirements govern lighting in parking lots and similar areas where the lights are needed for security. The standard along a thoroughfare is to have at least one light pole at each intersection — which is the case along the stretch of South Shore where the crash occurred, Barnes noted.

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It was the first fatal crash to happen on that section of South Shore in at least the past 10 years, according to Palm Beach County data. The most recent fatal crash on South Shore south of Pierson Road was in November 2014, when a medical episode caused an SUV driver to cross into the path of an oncoming dump truck, PBSO said at the time. The driver of the SUV was killed. That incident happened north of South Shore’s intersection with 50th Street.

“It’s just an unfortunate event that happened there,” Barnes said of Saturday’s crash.

As PBSO continues its investigation, fundraisers for the families of McWilliams and Kennedy continue to gain steam. A GoFundMe online fundraiser started by McWilliams’ brother, David, surpassed its $8,500 goal and stood at more than $13,000 on Thursday afternoon.

Carol Cohen Hodess, a longtime Wellington resident and key figure in the local equestrian community, launched a GoFundMe for Kennedy’s family on Tuesday and raised nearly $28,000 by Thursday afternoon.

“The people in the community have been absolutely amazing,” she said.

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