Local leaders meet in Atlanta today to plead again as Johnnie Anderson recovers slowly

The community has united in prayer and support this week for veteran Blackshear firefighter Captain Johnnie Anderson.

Anderson was struck by a truck and critically injured while directing school traffic on Hwy. 84 last Wednesday, but that’s not all local officials are doing.

Officials have been lobbying for a commitment from the Dept. of Transportation for a red light at the intersection of County Farm Road and Hwy. 84  — a request that’s been denied previously because the area doesn’t meet certain DOT criteria.

Their efforts are getting attention.

City, county and school officials are set to meet with DOT representatives today in Atlanta to discuss the matter and possible solutions for safety concerns.

Blackshear Mayor Kevin Grissom told the Times Thursday he’d spoken to every DOT official he could reach about the need for a traffic light, including State Transportation Board Chair Ann Purcell who told Grissom it would cost approximately $300,000 to install a light at that intersection.

Blackshear Police Chief Chris Wright says he’s been asking DOT for a light where Anderson was hit for at least five years.

In August 2017, county and city officials sent a joint letter to DOT requesting three new traffic control measures in conjunction with the construction of Pierce County’s new high school:

• Install a new traffic control signal (stop and turn signals) and square up the intersection of County Farm Road and Hwy. 84.

• Expand the existing turn lane to extend from Hwy. 84 at County Farm to the intersection of Hwy. 84 and New School Road.

• Install a new traffic control signal at the intersection of Hwy. 84 and New School Road.

County Manager Jason Rubenbauer followed up with DOT officials last week regarding the 2017 request.

“I have spoken with the Georgia Department of Transportation this morning and have been informed that they have been in continuous discussion about this project since we initiated the letter,” Rubenbauer said Friday. “They conducted their study using consultants who are responsible for gathering data and it is expected that the final report may possibly be made available next week.”

Although the intersection is .6 miles from the middle school and 1.7 miles from the high school, it was designated a school zone  — complete with flashing school zone lights  — several years ago in response to growing traffic congestion on Hwy. 84 during morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up, Wright says.

State law allows Wright to designate school crossing guards, and Anderson  — a longtime Blackshear firefighter and a city public works employee  — had taken up that role after completing traffic control training both as a fireman and Blackshear employee.

Wright’s nightshift officers stay on the clock for an extra hour to handle morning school traffic, but Anderson had been assisting for at least a month during the afternoons if officers were involved on other calls.

“I had to come up with some solution to give some stability in the afternoons … that was the option that was the best,” Wright says.

Wright and BPD Major Robby Boatright worked traffic detail Thursday, standing in the same spot where Anderson had been hit the day before, to evaluate how to make the job more safe for traffic controllers. Wright has now implemented a new department policy requiring two qualified traffic controllers be on scene. If two are not available, Wright says, no one will direct school traffic.

“There is no Georgia law that requires any agency to direct traffic at any school zone,” Wright points out. “If there’s not two public safety professionally trained in traffic control to work that intersection then we won’t be there at all.”

Wright did say he expects those times to be few and plans are underway to provide two traffic controllers each day.

“It is virtually never a problem in the mornings, but afternoons are when a lot of other things are going on and we’re working to deal with that.”

School Supt. Dr. Kevin Smith told the Times Monday he’s aware of Wright’s decision and “understands” the precautions behind the policy change, but that doesn’t eliminate the need to provide “an answer for those safety concerns.”

Statistics show students and staff are more likely to be harmed as a result of poor traffic control than by a violent incident on the school campus, Smith says.

Smith and school officials are working on other solutions for how to handle traffic safety during student drop off and pick up if BPD is not able to provide traffic control.

“I can’t think of anything more important than traffic flow ... it’s at the heart of our safety plan,” Smith adds.

When directing traffic on Hwy. 84, controllers pull at least one, sometimes two, emergency vehicles with flashing lights to block one lane of the highway. Wright reminds motorists state law requires drivers to slow down enough that they could come to a complete stop when passing emergency vehicles if necessary.

Wednesday’s accident was the most serious yet to occur at the intersection. Most have been fender benders, Wright says.

But, perhaps it was just a matter of time before safety issues escalated at the intersection. Officers operating radar Thursday afternoon clocked at least one pickup driving 70 into the school zone.

SIDEBAR

Johnnie Anderson, 59-year-old Blackshear native, was struck at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 10, while directing school traffic at Hwy. 84 and County Farm Road by 81-year-old Charles Samuel Daniels of Blackshear, driving a Dodge Ram truck.

Daniels has not been charged in the wreck, but the investigation is still pending. Results of an alcochol and drug test administered to Daniels at the scene are also still pending.

Daniels was distraught when reached by The Times and unable to comment on the incident. His wife, Mattie expressed, through sobs, that their thoughts and prayers are with Anderson and his family.

“We’re just so heartbroken,” she said.

GSP Trooper Merritt Meeks investigated the scene of the wreck last week. The investigation has now been turned over to a GSP Specialized Collision Reconstruction Team (SCRT) for further review.

It’s estimated Daniels was driving approximately 45 mph when he struck Anderson. Bits of Anderson’s reflective vest were stuck to the grill of Daniels’ truck.

Anderson has undergone at least three surgeries to repair internal organs and stop internal bleeding in the days since he was life-flighted from the scene to UF Health in Jacksonville. He suffered a fractured spine and brain bleed in the incident, among other injuries. Anderson’s condition is still listed as critical and he may face more operations in the days ahead.

The community was quick to respond with an outpouring of support for Anderson and his family Wednesday evening. Thursday, his daughter, LaTiffany Anderson, released the following statement from the family:

“I want to personally thank everyone for all the support, prayers and thoughts for my dad, Johnnie Anderson. The past two days have been extremely difficult for the family and friends, but because of the overwhelming kindness that everyone has expressed through donations, prayers and thoughts, it has made this tragic accident easier to handle. He has a long road ahead. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers through the upcoming days. There will be many more challenges, but through God’s work and the power of prayer we will get through this. Thank you once again and God bless!”

Anderson has been a member of Blackshear Fire Department for more than 30 years and worked as an EMT with Pierce County EMS for many years before accepting his current position with the City of Blackshear’s public works department.  

Anderson was named firefighter of the year in 2005, and has always shown dedication and commitment to the job.

“To be a firefighter you got to have it in your heart. Not everyone can do it,” he said.

Anderson views his work in emergency response as a calling, and looks for ways to give back to the local community.

When asked what the best part of his job was for a Blackshear Times interview several years ago, Anderson replied, “being able to help someone. I do it because it’s my way of helping my community when needed.”

Now, locals are helping Anderson in his time of need. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help with Anderson’s medical expenses and the City of Blackshear established an account at PrimeSouth Bank to benefit Anderson. Call PrimeSouth at 912-449-6685 for more information.

Anderson has two children, LaTiffany Anderson and Clay Anderson, and three grandchildren.

SIDEBAR

The Department of Transportation may have declined recent requests by local government officials for a traffic light at the intersection of Hwy. 84 and County Farm Road, but 15 years ago the tables were turned.

A search of the Times archives reveals DOT offered the city and county $200,000 toward $500,000 in improvements at that intersection and along County Farm Road in June 2004, although the proposed improvements did not include a traffic light.

DOT withdrew the offer six months later because local officials had not formulated a plan for the work, presumably because of challenges funding the approximately $300,000 remainder of the construction.

Estimates for the work at that time included left and right turn lanes on County Farm Road at the middle school, realigning County Farm Road at its intersection with Hwy. 84 and the addition of a right turn lane on the westbound lane of Hwy. 84. A second phase of the project would have included the widening of County Farm Road and acceleration/deceleration lanes at the middle school  that were included in the $500K estimate.

At the time, local police estimated the Hwy. 84 and County Farm Road intersection was the scene of at least one accident per week and “countless near misses.”

In recent years, funds have been allocated for the realignment of County Farm Road at its intersection with Hwy. 84 and other improvements to the road through the T-SPLOST (transportation special purpose local option sales tax) which passed public referendum in May 2018. Collections began in October 2018, but local officials have set no timeline yet for those improvements to County Farm Rd.

$8.5 million is allocated for the U.S. Highway 84, County Farm Road, New School Road project.

Anderson’s condition critical, but stable

Johnnie Anderson, 59-year-old Blackshear native, was struck at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 10, while directing school traffic at Hwy. 84 and County Farm Road by 81-year-old Charles Samuel Daniels of Blackshear, driving a Dodge Ram truck.

Daniels has not been charged in the wreck, but the investigation is still pending. Results of a routine alcochol and drug test administered to Daniels at the scene are also still pending.

Daniels was distraught when reached by The Times and unable to comment on the incident. His wife, Mattie, expressed, through sobs, that their thoughts and prayers are with Anderson and his family.

“We’re just so heartbroken,” she said.

GSP Trooper Merritt Meeks investigated the scene of the wreck last week. The investigation has now been turned over to a GSP Specialized Collision Reconstruction Team (SCRT) for further review.

It’s estimated Daniels was driving approximately 45 mph when he struck Anderson. Bits of Anderson’s reflective vest were stuck to the grill of Daniels’ truck.

Anderson has undergone at least three surgeries to repair internal organs and stop internal bleeding in the days since he was life-flighted from the scene to UF Health in Jacksonville. He suffered a fractured spine and brain bleed in the incident, among other injuries. Anderson’s condition is still listed as critical and he may face more operations in the days ahead.

The community was quick to respond with an outpouring of support for Anderson and his family Wednesday evening. Thursday, his daughter, LaTiffany Anderson, released the following statement from the family:

“I want to personally thank everyone for all the support, prayers and thoughts for my dad, Johnnie Anderson. The past two days have been extremely difficult for the family and friends, but because of the overwhelming kindness that everyone has expressed through donations, prayers and thoughts, it has made this tragic accident easier to handle. He has a long road ahead. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers through the upcoming days. There will be many more challenges, but through God’s work and the power of prayer we will get through this. Thank you once again and God bless!”

Anderson has been a member of Blackshear Fire Department for more than 30 years and worked as an EMT with Pierce County EMS for many years before accepting his current position with the City of Blackshear’s public works department.  

Anderson was named firefighter of the year in 2005, and has always shown dedication and commitment to the job.

“To be a firefighter you got to have it in your heart. Not everyone can do it,” he said.

Anderson views his work in emergency response as a calling, and looks for ways to give back to the local community.

When asked what the best part of his job was for a Blackshear Times interview several years ago, Anderson replied, “being able to help someone. I do it because it’s my way of helping my community when needed.”

Now, locals are helping Anderson in his time of need. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help with Anderson’s medical expenses and the City of Blackshear established an account at PrimeSouth Bank to benefit Anderson. Call PrimeSouth at 912-449-6685 for more information.

Anderson has two children, LaTiffany Anderson and Clay Anderson, and three grandchildren.