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Lionel Toms knows the tragedies of losing a loved one from an accident along Va. 24. He also knows the work that goes into implementing meaningful change.
Neither are easy.
But there’s no doubt the changes he fought for, and saw come to fruition, have saved lives.
Ever since his son died in an accident at the intersection of Virginia 24 and Virginia 122 on Sept. 10, 2002, he has been on a mission: Make that intersection safe so the pain his family suffered didn’t have to happen again.
His work paid off. Some two years after the tragic circumstance that claimed the life of his son, 30-year-old John Toms, a stoplight was in place at that intersection. A year later more improvements were also made.
Following the death of his son, Toms was incensed when another accident at the intersection claimed the life of a man at the same location not long after. And he got to work.
The leadership at the Virginia Department of Transportation quickly learned his name.
Toms would not be deterred. He distributed petitions, garnering more than 3,500 signatures from county residents calling for changes at the intersection.
He’s still working to see a third phase of work completed at that intersection, once considered a hot spot for accidents by VDOT, prior to the stoplight being installed. The final phase will be to reduce a dip along Va. 122, south of the intersection, that limits vision approaching the intersection..
He understands the frustration some have expressed about dangers along other sections of Va. 24.
“They’re upset, I know they are, they’re losing their children,” Toms said. “That puts a hurting on you.”
Toms said he thinks of his son every day.
His strategy was simple: get community support and be relentless. “I didn’t go at them in an ugly way,” he said of VDOT officials. He said cooperation was key.
He worked with county, Virginia State Police and VDOT officials along the way.
Improving the intersection wasn’t all Toms wanted. He’s also become a strong advocate for seat belt use; his son wasn’t wearing his and was ejected from his truck.
“The truck rolled on him,” Tom said.
He said it’s important for people to attend VDOT meetings and make their feelings known. Putting faces on a problem is more effective than just having them read reports, he said.
And it means a lot to him that the intersection is now much safer.
“I don’t want any other family or person going through that intersection in danger of losing their life,” he said.
It had become known as a death trap.
“I couldn’t sit back (and not do anything),” Toms said. “That was where our boy lost his life and I was going to do something about it.”
There haven’t been any fatalities at that intersection since the stop light was installed.
It takes a willingness to not give up, to help facilitate changes, he said.
“I was determined to get that thing fixed. I wasn’t ugly, I wasn’t hateful to anybody; I tried to get things done in a professional manner,” Toms said.
Toms said he preaches safety everywhere he goes. And he knows there are still problems along some parts of Va. 24.
He had a stroke about two years ago, but he still is working to make county roads safe—and to remember his son. Just this past week he was at the site of his son’s accident placing flowers around a memorial sign that was placed there.
“I’m still preaching safety and I’m still trying to get things done to save people’s lives,” stated Toms. “I took notice, I said ‘someone has to take a stand here’.”
Now, it appears, some residents along Va. 24 may be ready to take up that mantle.