William Carroll was 81 years old with a sharp mind and an adored sense of humor. He was his eldest daughter’s best friend and a doting husband to his nursing home-bound wife of 60 years.
He died Tuesday, a month after suffering severe injuries from a vehicle crash on Forest Drive in front of Trader Joe’s, where a large truck collided with his oldest daughter’s SUV while they were on their way home from errands.
His death brings renewed attention to that car-clogged, shop-lined stretch of road where city leaders have been considering making safety and aesthetic improvements.
Devastated by Carroll’s loss, his youngest daughter, Anne Carroll Reamer, said she is infuriated by the traffic situation on Forest Drive, well-known for dangerous left turns and for being increasingly ill-equipped for the high volume of cars that travel it each day.
On the day of her father’s death, Reamer posted a Facebook status in tribute to him, vowing to “make it my mission in life to make Forest Drive a safer place.”
She’ll never drive on that stretch of road again, she said Wednesday, as the reality of the loss was still setting in.
“I’m just beyond devastated that this perfect little man was taken away from me,” Reamer said. “He didn’t deserve this.”
Carroll loved war history, eating out at Bogarts restaurant in West Columbia and taking care of his wife – his beauty queen – Sara. His grandkids called him “the Honey Badger,” a joking reference to his favorite YouTube video.
Carroll and his oldest daughter, Kim Hoffman, were best friends. She would take him every day to visit Sara, an Alzheimer’s patient, at the nursing home, and they’d have dinner together every night.
The two of them were returning home after running Saturday afternoon errands on Jan. 24, Hoffman driving her Chevy Tahoe in the far right lane on Forest Drive heading west toward Beltline Boulevard.
At the same time, a car turning left out of the Trader Joe’s parking lot on the opposite side of the road collided with a large pickup truck traveling in the opposite direction of Hoffman’s car, according to the Forest Acres Police report.
After colliding with the car, the truck skidded and hit Hoffman’s Tahoe, smashing the SUV and leaving Hoffman and Carroll with severe injuries. Carroll’s included traumatic brain injury, a crushed right shoulder, broken hips and a broken back. A month later, he died in the hospital of complications from his injuries.
Unsafe traffic conditions, from speeders to badly timed traffic lights to risky left turns, are well-known to those who frequent the Forest Drive corridor.
Some 27,000 vehicles travel daily along the commercial stretch between Beltline Boulevard and Trenholm Road, with the volume expected to reach the road’s capacity – about 30,000 – in the next eight to 15 years, an ongoing corridor study found. Over a three-year period, there were more than 100 traffic accidents at the intersection of Forest and Trenholm, the study found.
“I have been warning my children for years ... not to drive down that stretch of Forest Drive,” Reamer said. “I’ve seen so many accidents.”
The introduction two years ago of Trader Joe’s and the congregation of upscale shops at Trenholm Plaza have drawn more and more people and cars to the area. And with Cardinal Newman School soon moving from Forest Drive and likely to be replaced by retail, that trend is expected to continue.
Ryan Atkinson, who owns Bobby’s Shoe Repair on Forest Drive near the intersection with Trenholm, said he and other business owners appreciate the increased customer traffic over the past few years. The crowds they used to see only around the holidays are now normal for any given Thursday or Friday, Atkinson said.
While the crowds are good for business, they do make traveling a challenge, he said.
“It’s pretty much hard to get in and out of anywhere around here,” he said.
The city commissioned the corridor study last year as the first step toward making safety improvements.
“It didn’t take something like (Carroll’s death) to make us aware” of the conditions on Forest Drive, Forest Acres Mayor Frank Brunson said. “I’m not sure what changes to the road would have avoided (this situation), but certainly we don’t want conditions of the road to encourage that.”
Suggestions for improving the road include retiming traffic lights, installing a median to prevent left turns and opening up driveways between businesses. Widening the road is not an option because businesses are so close to the street.
But, Brunson said, taking actions to improve the road will be a slow process.
Healing will be another slow process for Carroll’s family, both physically, as Hoffman recovers from a severely injured foot and ankle, and emotionally, as the family grieves their loss.
“He didn’t want to go. He wasn’t ready,” Reamer said.