Highway has taken a heavy toll on motorists

Lou Hebert

It happened on Woodville Road......

I remember it well. A late summer night in 1963, around 9 p.m., when my father and I, sitting on our back porch in Genoa listening to a Tiger's game on the radio, heard a screeching crash on the highway to our east. Most likely coming from Woodville Road.
Within minutes, it was followed by the screams of sirens as fire and rescue vehicles, one after another came fast and loud, racing north on Main Street. My father, not one to chase ambulances, said “This must be a bad one.”
His curiosity soon got the best of him and we climbed in the car to see what had happened.
Upon arriving, we soon discovered the grim reality as we saw the mangled remains of a 1957 Chevy station wagon. The smell of death was palpable. Nearby, we couldn't help but notice what appeared to be bodies under blankets. We didn't count, but were told there were ten, two adults and eight children, killed when their station wagon was smashed by a semi-truck head-on as it tried to pass a car in front of them.
The victims were migrant workers from Texas, in the area for the summer, picking vegetables at a nearby farm. Felix Campos, 41, and his wife Catalina, their five children, plus three other children from the Chico family were reported to be on their way to a drive-in movie theater about five miles away on Woodville Road. They were jammed into the station wagon. The victims all rest today, buried side by side, at the Clay Township Cemetery.
The accident remains one of the deadliest highway tragedies in Ohio history. But Woodville Road was hardly a stranger to these morbid moments. At one time it was known as a “Suicide Alley.”
The 14-mile stretch of roadway between the Toledo city limits and Genoa was considered one of the most dangerous highways in the state.
In 1941, a study showed that in the first 11 months of that year there were 88 accidents on Woodville Road - many fatal.
Going back through old newspapers, the death toll on Woodville Road was staggering. A cursory review of news articles from 1920 to the present shows that no fewer than 200 souls have breathed their last on this two-lane river of asphalt and concrete over the many decades of travel. If those who were severely injured in vehicle accidents were counted, the toll would be far greater.
In 1947, Genoa residents were shocked one morning as they learned that local resident, Claire Dunn, a coach at Toledo's Waite High School, who was taking five special needs children to school in East Toledo, fell victim to a semi-truck near Forest Park. Police say the truck slid on some ice and plowed head-on into Dunn's car. The five young children were killed instantly. Dunn was seriously injured but managed to survive. That area of roadway near Forest Park was exceptionally dangerous because of a slight rise in the road.
In the summer of 1924, not far from where the Dunn tragedy took place, a family of six from Sandusky was killed when their car was hit by a Lake Shore Electric train at the Reiman Road crossing. This was during the era when the Interurban train tracks ran alongside the highway from Toledo to Genoa.
A Clay Township police officer William Hetrick, Jr. lost his life in 2000 near the Woodville/ Reiman intersection when his patrol car was hit by a tractor trailer rig on a foggy July morning.
So why was this stretch of Woodville Road such a dangerous “ribbon of death”? The obvious answer is that it’s been a very busy highway. It is only one of a couple of main highways leading into
Toledo from points east, and has always carried heavy truck and bus traffic as well as auto traffic.
Thousands of cars a day traveling at highway speeds on a two-lane stretch that has many driveways and intersections to negotiate can be perilous.
Some critics contend that drivers could easily speed because there were no stop lights and nothing to slow them down. And for a number of years, a long section of Woodville Road had been made into a three-lane highway, with a passing lane in the middle. That lane might have seemed like a good idea to accommodate the needs of those wanted to pass the slower traffic, but it only created a greater chance for accidents as drivers from opposite directions would unfortunately meet each other at high speeds in the center lane.
Local drivers called it the “suicide lane.” To make matters worse, Woodville Road for many years was a popular “roadhouse row.” In the 1940's through the 60's, from Genoa to the Toledo city limits, there were easily as many as a dozen bars and taverns - a bar hopper's dream as drinking drivers could stop and have a few, or a few too many.
In a 1929 Ottawa County Exponent article, it was reported that “a person is taking his life in his own hands” whenever he drove on Woodville Road.
In the past few decades, things have changed. The death toll has declined and so too the bar and tavern count, as many are gone. A few stop lights have been added along the route and that deadly passing lane has faded to memory. But for those who have lost family, loved ones, or friends on this road of tears, the memories seldom fade, but still travel with us on Woodville Road.


The Press

The Press
1550 Woodville Road
Millbury, OH 43447

(419) 836-2221

Email Us

Facebook Twitter

Ohio News Media Association