I-TEAM: State, local officials at odds over fix for dangerous highway
IBERVILLE PARISH, La. (WAFB) - A family is grieving one week after 41-year-old Jeross Banks was hit and killed while riding his bike to work along LA-1 in Iberville Parish.
It’s a spot that’s become notorious for bad wrecks and some say it’s because there are no street lights there. Even after getting the attention of local leaders a few years ago, the WAFB I-TEAM has learned the spot is still left in the dark.
Family members say they will remember Banks as someone who was always laughing and dancing.
“It’s unbelievable and in the midst of being unbelievable, it’s just painful,” said Shauna Johnson.
Johnson is Banks’ aunt but she thought of him more like a son. She took him and his siblings in when their mother died and she says nothing could have prepared her for the call she woke up to around 6 a.m. Friday, February 24, 2023.
“It was from a cousin that I never really get phone calls from and she said Shauna, you need to go to the truck stop. Something has happened,” said Johnson.
Banks was headed to work at the McDonald’s in Port Allen when he was hit by a truck along LA-1 near Highway 75. While his family wrestles with this fresh grief, their pain is amplified by the fact that they’ve been down this road before. Johnson says this is the second family member she’s lost to a crash on this exact same stretch of roadway. Her cousin, Linda Peterson, was hit and killed while trying to turn in the same spot back in 2017.
“Had they taken care of this when my other relative died in March of 2017 and a resolution was done in 2020, even if Jeross had been hit, I think he would have been alive,” said Johnson.
She believes the problem is clear-- there are no lights, no sidewalk and no shoulder in the area, making the spot dangerous.
“They have to do something. That’s a bad stretch,” said Johnson.
Now Johnson is turning her pain into purpose and pushing for something to be done.
“The pain that my family feels, I hope that God graces me with energy to go as far as I need to go to get something done and to get lighting up there,” said Johnson.
Iberville Sheriff Brett Stassi says it’s one of those problem spots that keeps him up at night as the number of lives lost on the highway pile up. According to records obtained by the WAFB I-TEAM, there have been a dozen wrecks in that area in the last ten years and six of them have been deadly.
“Look, it’s a problem that we have,” said Stassi. “If we lose one life, that’s too much so the amount of lives that we’ve lost, this is screaming for some attention.”
In fact, Sheriff Stassi says he sent a letter to the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) back in 2019 pleading for help and citing several deaths and several serious injuries along that stretch of road. Nearly four years later, nothing has been done.
“We made people aware of it and we hoped they would do the right thing but they just won’t do it,” said Stassi.
Iberville council members also drafted a resolution in 2020 to get lighting installed there but for whatever reason, that plan also ran out of gas and nothing happened. Councilman Louis Kelly says the time for talk is over.
“I hope it gets fixed quickly and it should have been fixed with us sending a resolution,” said Kelly.
The WAFB I-TEAM tried to determine who is really responsible for fixing the problem. Councilman Kelly believes it’s clear that it’s a state highway so it should be a state issue.
“I think that DOTD is responsible to put these lights up,” said Kelly.
Officials with DOTD disagree. Rodney Mallet, spokesman for the agency, says while it is a state highway they are not responsible for street lighting if it’s not an interstate system. In order for lights to go up there, he says local officials need to get a permit from DOTD, identify a way to pay for it and sign an agreement with the state to maintain the lights. Mallet says the bottom line is the state will not pay for it.
“Well the lighting situation, that’s done on a local level,” said Mallet. “Our Secretary has said he will help try to find a funding source but no, we do not pay for lighting that’s not on the interstate.”
While he does not agree, Councilman Kelly says they have no choice but to find out a way to move forward.
“It’s going to get done,” he said. “If the state won’t pay for it shame on them but the parish will have to do something because we cannot continuously have deaths on that little stretch of highway.”
Johnson says she is fed up with the confusion and frankly she does not care who’s responsible. She just wants the problem fixed.
“It shouldn’t matter who pays for it, just do it,” Johnson said. “Let’s get it done.”
As for the sidewalks and other safety measures, a spokesman for DOTD says they are set to study several spots across the state to determine which areas could benefit the most from improvements. The stretch of LA-1 referenced in this report is on the list but there’s no guarantee it will actually get those improvements.
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