Justice for Jeff: Saugerties residents demand traffic light at fatal intersection

The intersection of Route 9W and Malden Turnpike in Saugerties. (Photo by Dion Ogust)

For Krista Smith, 33, of Saugerties, the morning of October 14, 2021 started like any other.

She kissed her fiancé Jeffrey Begreen, 35, before he headed off to his job driving a dump truck for a small company handling contracts for large excavations. The experienced commercial driver who had his CDL for five years and had previously driven buses was tasked that morning with making a short trip up the road to the Town of Catskill to pick up 20 tons of stone and bring it back to a project in Saugerties.

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Begreen would never return home.

Less than 90 minutes later he was driving back to Saugerties on U.S. Route 9W and as he approached the blind intersection with Malden Turnpike, a green car crept out onto Route 9W as the driver attempted to cross the highway.

“He was all the way in Jeff’s Lane,” Smith said. “You can’t see anything. As Jeff was coming around that bend, he had 20 tons of stone in back.”

It was too late for him to stop.

“He made a split-second decision to swerve and not kill him,” Smith said.

That decision ended up costing Begreen his life.

As he swerved, his truck toppled over into the other lane and the cab was struck by a school bus head-on. Authorities pronounced Begreen dead at the scene. The driver of the school bus, which was empty at the time, was taken to HealthAlliance Hospital Broadway Campus with minor injuries.

Now Smith is demanding that a stoplight be installed at the intersection of U.S. Route 9W and Malden Turnpike. She’s also calling for right turns on red to be banned once the light is installed, the speed limit to be reduced along with that stretch of Route 9W and for shrubbery that limits views near the intersection to be removed.

That effort has gained some traction with a change.org petition she started calling on the New York State Department of Transportation, which maintains Route 9W, to install a stoplight at the intersection garnering more than 2,000 signatures as of Friday, November 12.

“There should definitely be a stoplight there and no one should have to die,” Smith said. “From the research, I’ve done, this is one of the most deadly intersections in the county.”For them to not put in a light is extreme negligence.”

Smith said she refuses to let Begreen’s death be in vain and not have anything come of it. She said they had plans to get married and start a family. “In four seconds, I had all of that taken away.”

To make matters worse, she said she feels stuck in a grey area where Town officials say the county is responsible for it, then the county says the state is responsible.

When contacted by Hudson Valley One about the crash and any plans to implement safety improvements at the intersection, DOT officials issued the following statement by email: “Safety is always a top priority of the New York State Department of Transportation,” DOT Region 8 Public Information Officer Heather Pillsworth said. “As the incident that occurred at Route 9W and Malden Turnpike in Saugerties on October 14 is still under investigation, we are unable to comment at this time.”

In a telephone interview with Hudson Valley One, Town Supervisor Fred Costello said he wanted to send his sympathy to Smith and he applauds her effort. He acknowledged that the Malden Turnpike/Route 9W intersection is one of the worst of several dangerous intersections in the Town where Town officials are working with the county and state to find meaningful safety improvements. But he admitted the Town can only do so much as neither road is managed and maintained by the Town.

Costello said he’s hopeful that a windfall of Federal infrastructure money could be put to use on such projects which have been constrained by budgetary limitations in the past.

The supervisor agreed with Smith that lines of sight are also a key issue there. He said in the meantime, the Town will use resources including police to make sure traffic safety is a priority.

He said Town officials previously petitioned DOT to lower the speed limit in the area, but the state did not approve it. He said the Town also has a number of other requests to lower speed limits pending with the DOT.

The supervisor acknowledged lower speed limits and stoplights have made a difference on two dangerous intersections on State Route 32.

He said a lower speed limit and the removal of a passing zone on Route 32 after a state and county review has made a difference at a dangerous intersection with Glasco Turnpike in Glasco. “It was a similar situation with a number of accidents and a fatality,” Costello said.

He said getting DOT to install a traffic light on State Route 32 at the southbound New York State Thruway Exit 20 interchange has been a very successful improvement. “It’s reduced accidents dramatically and made the intersection much safer.”

Smith said the sky is the limit with where she’s taking her demands. She said she’s reached out to State Senator Michelle Hinchey and Congressman Antonio Delgado.

“I want to get as many eyes and ears,” she said.

She said Begreen also worked as a part-time contractor for the U.S. Postal Service and previously worked as a behavioral specialist at the Center for Spectrum Services along with volunteering in the community.

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“A lot of people were touched by Jeff,” Smith said. “It’s disappointing politically no one seems to want to take responsibility for any of this.”

On top of the stoplight, she wants to see her fiancé remembered for his split-second decision that saved the other driver. “Jeff’s heroism, his split-second decision to sacrifice himself should be recognized too,” she said.

As she continues to push for the installation of the stoplight, she admitted the devastation of losing her fiancé makes every day difficult.

“We pretty much cry all day every day,” Smith said. “We’re trying to channel the grief to have some good come out of it. “I don’t want anyone else to experience this. He was only 35.”  

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