A sign on Catfish Lake Road near Havelock, N.C., reminds Marines they are prohibited from using it as a cut-through. Two Marines were killed along the road Jan. 7. (Cpl. Alicia R. Giron/Marine Corps)
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In the wake of a tragic car crash that left two Marines dead, more than 2,000 people have signed a petition to close a North Carolina road so dangerous that area bases have made it off-limits for years.
Lance Cpl. Nicholas Buscarnera and Pfc. Skyler Way, both 19, were discovered dead in a car Jan. 7 along Catfish Lake Road in the Croatan National Forest, having drowned after the vehicle skidded off the road, overturned, and sank in a canal. The tragedy is the latest in a series of deadly crashes along the unpaved road. Local news outlets reported that 280 crashes, including 10 fatalities, have happened along the road since 2001. These figures include the 2010 deaths of two Marines from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., as well as a civilian family of five in 2011.
Richard O’Connell, a close friend of Buscanera’s and the brother of a Camp Lejeune Marine, said starting an online petition on Change.org to close the road was a small way he could honor his friend.
“It has to stop,” he said. “I don’t want to see my brother dying on the side of the road because it’s too dangerous and they won’t close it. He’s already been to Afghanistan twice. I don’t want him dying on the side of the road.”
The petition, which was promoted on Facebook and shared by some friends and family members of the Marines who were killed, topped 1,000 signatures within 48 hours. Most of the signers identify themselves as family members of Camp Lejeune Marines, and some say they had friends and family killed in other crashes on the road.
Meanwhile, some local officials say the driving, not the road, was the problem. Steve Hamilton, a traffic engineer with the state’s Department of Transportation, told local ABC affiliate WCTI that there are no current proposed changes to the road and that excessive speed is to blame for the accidents.
“Trying to drive 55, 65, 75 miles on that road is like trying to drive that same speed on a sheet of ice,” Hamilton told the station.
Officials said speeding was a factor in the crash that killed Buscanera and Way.
Since 2010, Camp Lejeune and Cherry Point officials have prohibited Marines from driving on the road — which can serve as a shortcut between the bases — for any travel apart from recreational activities.
O’Connell said that alone wasn’t going to stop Marines from taking it.
“I was in the Navy as well, and we do stupid things,” he said.
Signers of his petition echoed the sentiment.
“My son is a Marine about to be at this base,” one woman wrote. “Knowing my son, they are invincible and speed limits do not mean anything. Please close the road.”
Buscarnera’s funeral is set for Saturday. Way’s will be held Jan. 20.
O’Connell said he’ll keep working on his cause in memory of his friend.
“I’ll do whatever’s necessary to get this closed and stop people from dying,” he said. “No life, civilian or military, is worth it.”