Woman charged after SUV topples traffic signal pole in Norton

Mike Still • Jan 15, 2020 at 11:15 AM

NORTON — Drivers in downtown Norton will see a new traffic pattern for a while after a motorist took down a traffic signal pole on Park Avenue Wednesday.

Norton Police Chief James Lane said the crash happened around 8:21 a.m. when a 2003 Toyota SUV driven by 39-year-old Clarissa Renee Kern, Norton, went off the westbound lane of Park Avenue and struck a decorative tree, a garbage can and the traffic signal pole for northbound 7th Street.

Kern’s vehicle then swung around 180 degrees before stopping on the sidewalk. The pole and crossarm for the traffic lights fell across the Park and 7th Street intersection, blocking traffic for most of an hour while public works and fire department crews cut apart and removed the pole.

The tree was snapped near its base and thrown across 7th Street, Lane said.

Lane said Kern and a 16-year-old juvenile passenger in the SUV declined treatment from Norton Rescue Squad personnel. No other vehicles were involved in the crash and no pedestrians were injured.

Kern was charged with driving under the influence of drugs and with operating a vehicle without insurance, Lane said.

City Manager Fred Ramey said drivers on Park Avenue will see a new traffic pattern at the Park Avenue-7th Street intersection. The Park
Avenue signals will be set for flashing caution lights, and drivers will be able to enter 7th on the north and south sides of the intersection. Drivers will not be able to use 7th Street to access Park Avenue, though.

Ramey said he and staff will be meeting with traffic consultants and engineers to assess the costs and scope of work to replace the pole. He said most of the downtown signal poles are about 30 years old and a new pole might not match the existing base.

The condition of the pole’s base, mounting bolts and electrical system after the crash might mean replacing the base as well, Ramey said.

“It’s ironic, since we’re having a meeting tonight to talk about possible changes to the downtown traffic and signal patterns,” Ramey said of a scheduled VDOT information meeting at city hall Wednesday to display information on future traffic changes on Park Avenue.