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Metro family demands change to dangerous KC intersection after losing loved one in crash

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A metro family is demanding change to dangerous intersections around Kansas City after they say their loved one was taken too soon.

Staci Schoellhorn and her parents moved to Independence more than a year ago. Schoellhorn said she would frequently take her parents to doctors visits at Truman Medical Center and knew the area well.

"I took my dad down to his eye clinics all the time so it was a known intersection on both sides. I knew it," Schoellhorn said.

On March 2, Schoellhorn said she was unaware of the changes the city made to the intersection of 25th and Charlotte streets. At 35 weeks pregnant, Schoellhorn said she was behind the wheel when the tragic crash claimed the life of her father and role model.

"It was just all around a messed up intersection and it was bound to happen. It just so happened to be me," she said.

Police reports show Schoellhorn's Ford Fusion was struck by a RideKC bus while driving through the intersection. The bus driver and 11 passengers from the bus were taken to an area hospital. Schoellhorn and her daughter were also taken by ambulance for treatment. Staci's father, Dennis Schoellhorn, died in the crash.

"He is a guardian angel who took over for our four lives," she said.

Dennis and Staci Schoellhorn

The family's attorney, Steve Sanders, said the crash is a tragedy that could have been prevented.

"It should never have happened, and what we are concerned about is that it will probably happen again if the city does not change the way it is doing things," Sanders said.

In October, the city made plans to remove the traffic signals at the intersection. By March, the intersection included a stop sign for all southbound traffic to stop at Charlotte Street and yield to the drivers on 25th Street. This change gave the RideKC bus the right of way.

"How many people have to die before the city wakes up and says, 'We need to do this the right way. We need to do this by the book,'?" Sanders asked.

FOX4 uncovered other intersections in Kansas City that also had traffic signals removed, including 14th and Walnut streets in the Power and Light District and Westport Road and Pennsylvania Avenue in Westport.

Dan Backhaus from Liberty Driving School drove us to the three intersections that had signals removed in the last 12 months. Despite no reports of deadly crashes at either of these intersections, Backhaus said a crash can occur if drivers do not pay attention.

"You have to not get distracted when you are driving, and the big thing is to make sure you read signs. Make sure you pay attention to the lines, and make sure you see the big picture. That is one of your jobs as the driver," Backhaus said.

Traffic engineer Sawyer Breslow used to live in Westport and remembers the city deciding to remove the traffic lights.

"Rather than having traffic go through the corridor at 20 or 30 miles an hour, it makes it safer because they have to stop, stop, stop," Breslow said. "So as a driver it might not feel like it is going well because you are sitting in a line, but it is safer for the higher pedestrian volumes."

Breslow said regional traffic engineers go by federal standards set by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Breslow said they look at factors like foot traffic, distance from school buildings and the number of crashes at the intersection. He said evaluating an intersection can take weeks and include hours of on-site research.

"Maybe 10 or 15 years ago it made sense to have the signal there. Then the traffic patterns can change over time and maybe there are not as many people using the road," Breslow said.

Sanders worries more analysis needs to be done by the city to prevent a similar tragedy from happening.

"It seems rather obvious, although I do not know for certain, the city did not do that sort of planning and analysis at this intersection when they changed it," Sanders said.

After the deadly crash at 25th and Charlotte, the city changed the intersection again by permanently removing the covered light poles and by adding another stop sign. Now, both lanes of traffic are required to stop.

Neighbors who live near the intersection already notice a difference.

"I think the change has been good," neighbor Cooper Crooks said. "You can definitely tell everyone is a little more certain about what they are supposed to do at the intersection. It is a little more obvious there is a three way stop there now."

Staci Schoellhorn said the change cannot stop there. Until then, she has this message for drivers: "Drive safe. Pay attention and look both ways because someone can be gone in a blink of an eye."