By Conrad Dudderar
The family of Yukon man killed in a traffic collision at the State Highway 66/Banner Road intersection supports steps the Oklahoma Department of Transportation is taking to make the area safer.
Ray Lee Davis, 73, a U.S. Navy veteran and longtime Yukon businessman, died Nov. 24 when the 2019 Kawasaki motorcycle he was riding on SH-66 was struck by a 1996 Peterbilt semi-truck and trailer whose driver failed to yield at a stop sign.
The intersection is the site of dozens of serious crashes including several fatalities over the past 25 years.
Davis’ daughter, Candace (Davis) Schwarz, has lobbied for improvements to be made to the intersection.
“We fully support ODOT with the plans we saw,” Schwarz said.
ODOT officials have announced plans to install a roundabout at the SH-66/Banner Road intersection, perhaps by the end of 2020. The state will cover the construction cost, up to an estimated $450,000, with Canadian County paying for engineering and design.
“As excited as we are about the roundabout, this is not a cure-all,” ODOT Public Relations Director Terri Angier said. “We just need to remind people that somebody ran that stop sign and killed somebody. People need to realize that their safety – and the safety of their loved ones – is in their hands when they’re driving. That’s the solution.”
As an interim measure, the SH-66/Banner Road intersection next week will become a four-way stop with red flashing lights and large advanced warning signs. SH-66 also will be narrowed to one lane in each direction.
Work will begin next Monday, Feb. 17 and the changes are due to be finished by Wednesday, Feb. 19.
The intersection now has amber flashing lights and stop signs only on Banner Road.
State transportation officials initially planned to install traffic signals at the SH-66/Banner Road intersection, but that would have taken an estimated two to three years to happen.
Schwarz and her brother-in-law met recently with ODOT Division 4 engineer Trenton January, who showed a proposed plan that included the roundabout. The family was skeptical at first, not convinced it would make the intersection safer.
“Our entire goal and intention is to make that area safe,” Schwarz said. “The only point of reference that I had was the roundabout in Midtown, which is very, very small.
“Trenton showed us a plan that was fit to scale with trucks, school busses and cars. That intersection is very wide from stop sign to stop sign. So there is plenty of room to actually do a roundabout and it be safe, including for trucks and for school busses.”
Schwarz and her brother-in-law met for two hours with the ODOT engineer.
“I had a long list of concerns and questions,” Davis’ daughter said. “After the meeting, we were as satisfied as we could be with what we saw.”
BANNER ROAD UPGRADE NEEDED
Schwarz still is concerned about something she wants Canadian County officials to address – the condition of Banner Road between I-40 and SH-66.
District 1 County Commissioner Marc Hader said he plans to reconstruct Canadian County’s stretch of Banner Road “as soon as possible” as funds are available. He’s previously sought grants to help with the cost.
“We know there’s a bad spot south of the intersection where the sub-grade’s gone,” Hader said. “We’re going to rebuild that whole thing relatively soon.”
Schwarz also referred to a county bridge north of SH-66.
“If you are on 66 heading west and turn on Banner Road back to the north, that 24-foot bridge is coming apart,” she said. “If two trucks are coming toward each other, one of them has to wait and give right-of-way to the other one. It’s that narrow.”
The metal underneath has rusted, the guardrail is damaged and creek below is littered with debris.
“It’s shocking to see,” Schwarz said. “It is atrocious.”
Commissioner Hader said he would direct his staff to either repair the damaged guardrails or hire a contractor to have it done.
Meanwhile, Schwarz wants the driver of the semi-truck to be held accountable for causing last November’s accident that resulted in her father’s death.
Oklahoma City’s Donald Ray Biffle, 26, has been charged with negligent homicide in Canadian County District Court. Oklahoma Highway Patrol investigators say Biffle was driving northbound on Banner Road when he failed to stop at a stop sign at SH-66.
Under Oklahoma law, negligent homicide is a misdemeanor crime punishable by a $100-$1,000 fine and/or up to one year in prison.
Schwarz said she’s working with District 60 State Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon, to push for new legislation that would stiffen penalties for any motorist who kills someone.
She believes Biffle deserves to be in prison for “as long as possible”.
“I love my family more than I hate Donald Biffle,” Schwarz said.
Davis’ daughter also is speaking with Rep. Baker about having a stretch of the state highway named in her father’s honor.
“Rep. Baker has been kind to us,” Schwarz said.