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Neighborhood attractive to cars — literally

A parked car may have saved Tracy Whitaker from being the victim of a traffic accident while sleeping in her bedroom at about midnight Wednesday.

For an unknown reason, the O’Leary Street neighborhood seems to have a problem with cars running into houses. Tracy Whitaker and her mother, Nancy, know of two incidents within just a couple blocks in the last seven years or so. In one case, a woman was killed.

Because of the proliferation of out-of-control cars and continual speeding on the road, the women hope the city puts in some sort of traffic-slowing element on the road.

Early Thursday morning, a 20-year-old Oak Harbor woman was arrested on suspicion of hit and run of an unattended vehicle and reckless driving. She drove her 2003 Suzuki car westbound on NE Ninth Avenue, went through a stop sign at O’Leary Street and struck Nancy Whitaker’s parked 1997 Chevrolet Geo, according to Oak Harbor Police Capt. Rick Wallace.

“I first woke up when I heard the roar of a car going by really fast,” Tracy Whitaker said. “I never heard her try to brake. … If the (parked) car wasn’t there, it would have been in my bedroom.”

Wallace said the woman was driving at about 50 miles per hour in an area where the speed limit is 25 mph. The force of the collision crushed the front end of the Geo and sent it into the middle of the yard. Nevertheless, the driver backed up her badly-damaged car, dragging a bumper, and drove away.

Bob Craig, a neighbor, heard the accident and followed the woman to a home just a few blocks away. He found it parked in a driveway with steam coming from it. Wallace said an officer arrested her soon afterward.

Fortunately, no one was injured. “What would have happened if someone was walking past the parked car?” he said. “People walk our street all the time ... but there were no feet sticking out from underneath.”

Both Capt. Wallace and Craig were mystified as to why the area has had three serious accidents involving vehicles coming from side streets onto O’Leary without stopping at stop signs.

According to Craig, a drunk driver drove his car into a neighbor’s house about seven years ago. As he describes it, the car struck a cherry tree that was in the front lawn and launched into the house.

“It didn’t even scar the sides of the windows,” he said, ”and landed in the living room.”

The residents of the house were asleep at the time and weren’t injured.

About a year and a half ago, a woman driving a pickup lost brakes and slammed into another neighbor’s house. The accident injured the elderly resident of the house, who later died as a result. Wallace said investigators ruled that the accident was caused by defective equipment.

Craig’s wife, Doris, is a member of the police department’s Citizens On Patrol. She said there tends to be a lot of speeding on NE O’Leary because it’s a wide, straight road that’s “kind of a through street.”

Tracy Whitaker suggested that the city could prevent speeding and cars in houses by putting in traffic circles at intersections, like they have in residential areas of Seattle. She said even speed bumps or more signs could help.

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