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‘Don’t go in the backyard’

Repeated crashes leave Seaford family of nine fearful of outdoors

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“My wife woke me up and told me we had another accident in the backyard,” recalled Calvin DuBois, 56, of Seaford. “I said. ‘Stop playing.’”

DuBois, his wife, Marisol, his five children and his brother-in-law, Steven Eckert, 44, and sister-in-law ,Michelle Eckert, 50, live in a comfortable cul-de-sac on Westbrook Court in Seaford, owned by Michelle, that was festively decorated for the holidays. But beyond the sliding glass doors that lead from the kitchen to the backyard was a much more grim scene.

Just beyond the children-friendly backyard, which once contained a pool, a  swing set, a basketball hoop and a trampoline, is the Seaford-Oyster Bay Expressway, and, more important, the ramp for Exit 2E to Sunrise Highway, on the Wantagh-Seaford border. A guardrail begins halfway up the ramp, but offers the Dubois-Eckert backyard virtually no protection. Parts of a 6-foot-tall chain-link fence, erected by the state Department of Transportation, border the DuBois-Eckert property. The only natural barriers are trees.

The ramp has a suggested speed of 15 mph, and vehicles leaving the expressway must brake before accelerating rapidly to merge onto eastbound Sunrise Highway, where the speed limit is 50. Visibility is limited, both from the ramp and from Sunrise. The ramp sees heavy use, because the expressway is the last north-south connector between the Long Island Expressway and the South Shore, and because it is the only local parkway or expressway that permits commercial traffic.

In the Dubois-Eckert backyard there are scattered shards of glass, car parts remaining from prior accidents, and broken and splintered wood from the swing set and the pool deck. “There are several thousand dollars in damage to the backyard,” DuBois said.

That damage isn’t just from just one accident, though. It is the cumulative result of three incidents over past six weeks.

On Nov. 27, a car skidded off the ramp at 11:20 p.m. — across a patch of grass, through the trees and the fence that separate the highway exit from the DuBois-Eckert backyard — into the deck that surrounded the above-ground pool. The fence was severely damaged, but luckily, no one was in the backyard at the time. The driver was treated for minor injuries.

One month later, on Dec. 27, at 2:30 a.m., another car skidded off the ramp. Calvin DuBois’s wife, Marasol, awakened him. “She said that there was another accident,” DuBois said. “Luckily, this one didn’t actually make it into the backyard, but it was close.”

DuBois and his family returned to their rooms to sleep. A few hours later, at 9:28 a.m., Calvin was awakened once more, with a sense of what he said felt like déjà vu. This time an errant vehicle had reached the backyard before flipping and leveling the swing set, scattering more glass and debris.

Accidents have been occurring since early 2019, DuBois said, and he believes that there may have been even more when the families haven’t been at home. Alcohol was not a factor in any of the three recent incidents, according to Nassau County Police Department reports.

“My kids want to be in the backyard — my son wants to play basketball back there,” DuBois said. “Now no one’s allowed back there. That’s it. It’s too dangerous.” The youngest of his five children is 11. He also has a 7-month-old grandchild.

His plea is a simple one: Extend the guardrail to the expressway, where vehicles begin to turn as they exit. Steven Eckert has written letters to state representatives as well as the DOT.

State Sen. John Brooks, of Seaford, visited the home on Sunday, surveyed the damage in the backyard and had a look at the exit ramp. “That guardrail that’s there now acts like a launch pad,” he said. “We need to extend it further and heighten attention to that exit.” Brooks said he might petition for the installation of a new guardrail — preferably a higher one.

“There is no reaction time to get out of the way if a car were to come through there,” he added. “It is absolutely a problem, and I’ll be getting on the phone trying to get the DOT down here as soon as possible.”

Brooks proposed a bill in the Senate last January to make Southern State Parkway exits safer. It is currently in committee.

According to DuBois, hours after the early-morning incident on Dec. 27, a state DOT investigator was on the property, surveying the damage to the fence from the accident a month earlier, when the second crash occurred that day.

“I mean, what more do you need to see to make a change?” said County Legislator Steve Rhoads. “This has been an issue we’ve been aware of for a while now, and we’ve been working with our state representatives to push the DOT to get this resolved.”

Rhoads has contacted Brooks and State Assemblyman Dave McDonough’s office about the problem. Wantagh-Seaford Homeowners Association President Ella Stevens has also reached out to McDonough — who was told by the DOT on Monday that the department would try to expedite a study of the situation.

“We will use everything in our power to help homeowners in our community that feel like they have no one and nowhere to turn to,” said Stevens. “Whatever we can do to influence a change, we will do.”

Brooks said he was hoping to get the DOT to return to the house by the end of this week.

“The guardrail has to be extended,” said DuBois. “What more has to happen for this to get fixed?”