Teresa Morris believes a turn lane or warning signs near the Blue Springs Elementary School construction site off U.S. 72 West and Hardy Road may have saved her father’s life.

On June 3, 64-year-old Gerald Burns rear-ended a fuel truck that had slowed on 72 to turn left into the Hardy Road construction site. He died Tuesday morning at Huntsville Hospital.

As Morris and her family began the process of planning his funeral, she asked that her father’s death not be in vain.

“We feel no fault toward the driver of the gas truck,” she said. “He was working and was just trying to turn off 72 onto Hardy. But there needs to be a turn lane there. They should have built it before they started building the school.”

The 15 miles of 72 from Athens to the Lauderdale County line is a treacherous stretch of highway. Since 1994, more than 30 people have been killed in wrecks there. Adding construction vehicles to the mix makes it even riskier.

At the very least, Morris would like to see warning signs erected to alert motorists about the construction site and trucks turning onto Hardy.

“All of the deaths on 72, and there is no signs up mentioning that there is construction going on or that there is an elementary school going up there? This is not acceptable for my family or anybody else’s family. When Athens Intermediate School was being built, there were warning signs. I just don’t want anyone else to go through this.”

Signs might prevent another driver from making the same mistake. A turn lane could ensure it.

Pearce Construction is building the $14 million school, which is set to open 2010.

Limestone County Schools Superintendent Dr. Barry Carroll said he has requested improvements for the intersection from the Alabama Department of Transportation but has received no response.

Curtis Vinson with the North Alabama Regional Office in Guntersville said the plan to widen parts of 72 and add turn lanes — including a turn lane at the Hardy intersection — is under way. However, construction will not begin for five years, Vinson said.

“We have an ongoing project to upgrade 72,” he said. “We haven’t completed the design yet because we are in the environmental stage (assessing the land, bodies of water and other environmental factors that could effect the design).”

Once the environmental and design phases are complete, ALDOT will have to buy right of way before construction can begin, he said.

As for signs warning motorists of construction in the area, the contractor building the school would have to request them from ALDOT, Vinson said. That is because signs erected along a state highway have to meet uniform sign standards for safety reasons, he said.

Pearce Construction could not be reached for comment on whether it has or will apply for signs.

Same wreck over and over

Morris was preparing for work at Walmart the morning of June 3, when her sister, Tracey Sherrill, who was working at the Department of Human Resources, called to tell her about the accident.

Burns was driving his old Dodge truck west on 72 to Elgin to help someone with a project, Morris said. He came upon the fuel truck that had slowed in the left lane to turn into the school construction site off Hardy about 8:30 a.m., she said.

After impact, his throat struck the steering and he broke his neck, suffered two brain hemorrhages and crushed his voice box, she said.

Unaware of how badly he was injured, Burns was conscious after the wreck and even called his brother, Aaron, to tell him to pick up his truck, she said.

“He was hurting and he was real hoarse but he didn’t know how bad he was,” Morris said. “He had four heart attacks before so this was no big deal. But when he got to the hospital his airway started to swell.”

He was flown by helicopter to Huntsville Hospital, where doctors had to put him on a ventilator and install a feeding tube.

“The last time we heard his voice was on Wednesday when they put in an airway,” Morris said. “He suffered terribly the last six days. We decided to let him go.”

She wants people to know how much she and her family loved him.

“He was a character,” she said. “He loved to talk and help people. He loved to watch Alabama football, go fishing with his brothers and sit on the back porch with my mom and watch birds.”

She hopes his death will remind motorists to beware on 72 — that their lives can change in an instant.

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