Area residents are mourning the death of Ronald “Shag” Travis, who was killed Wednesday after a multi-vehicle crash on U.S. Route 522 at the intersection with Lake Frederick.
Travis, 66, died a few hours after his Chrysler sedan struck a utility pole when he tried to avoid vehicles involved in the crash. He is survived by his partner of nearly 50 years, Liz Jordon, and their two sons.
Travis was known by his nickname Shag at the Costco store in Winchester, where he greeted customers and checked their receipts when they left the store. Costco’s General Manager Billy Wallace had worked with Travis since that store’s opening in 1995.
“He’s just a gentle spirit,” Wallace said of his employee and friend. “(He always had) a warm smile and you never heard him say a cross word about anyone. If somebody was complaining about anything, he always had a positive comment and a chuckle. He always drew smiley faces on people’s receipts. All of the kids knew him and a lot of them shopped here because they wanted to see him.”
Travis, who transferred to the Costco in Winchester from the warehouse retailer’s Fairfax store, was hired by the company on Aug. 7, 1990.
“He was an excellent worker, great morale booster,” Wallace said. “He had been with the company over 25 years… To my knowledge never called out a day. Everyone loved him.”
Community remembrance for Shag has taken many forms, including a Facebook group page – http://tiny.cc/mwamcy – that is asking people to take part in random acts of kindness in memory of Travis.
“The store will not be the same without Shag,” said Wallace. “He’s going to be missed by everyone. He made such a difference with his personality. Not everybody has the kind of demeanor he had. He was just gentle and kind. I never saw him in a foul mood or anything of that nature. He was the kind of person who drew people in.”
Linda Strader, of Winchester, has been shopping at Costco since its opening.
“This guy was totally infectious,” she said. “Him being cut down in his prime, how precious life is and how quickly it can go. Never did I go there that he didn’t welcome me. He knew me so well he never needed to see my card like so many others. My grandchildren loved him. I wish I’d known him personally… He didn’t just do his job, he was his job. A lot of things have changed with working conditions in the world but that man took pride in everything he did.”
Fundraising efforts for funeral and other expenses have begun at the You Caring crowdfunding site, http://tiny.cc/60gmcy, set up by Janie Shirley, who has worked at Costco as a marketing and business representative.
“It’s been amazing,” Shirley said. “We all know each other in passing and he’s definitely one of those people who shined brightly. Watching the impact that he had and the outpouring of people acknowledging that is just amazing.”
Shirley said the memorial service is still in the planning stages, but they are looking at Wednesday as the date for it.
A petition has been started in an effort to control the intersection where the fatal crash occurred. A flashing yellow light is the only form of control for the intersection on the four-lane U.S. 522 where the posted speed is 55 mph.
The petition, located online at http://tiny.cc/0vamcy, had nearly 1,000 signatures as of Thursday evening.
Matthew Shiley, regional operations director for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Northwest region, explained why a regular green, yellow and red stoplight doesn’t exist at the intersection.
“The traffic signal was built with the anticipation that this large development at Lake Frederick would generate enough traffic to warrant that kind of traffic control,” Shiley said. “The development has not materialized like we thought so the traffic just isn’t there.”
“In this case, it has been studied over the past six to seven years to determine if things have changed,” he said. “The last study we performed was in October of 2015, and that showed that warranting conditions were not present. It has remained as a caution light as a means to advise traffic that there is an intersection there, to slow down.”
Shiley also explained that VDOT uses nine warrant criteria to determine what kind of traffic signal is needed at a given location. Among those warrants were things like amount of traffic, time of traffic, direction of traffic and number of reported accidents.
According to Shiley, the most recent data for the intersection (April 1, 2011 – March 31, 2016), indicated there were four reported crashes in that intersection. Of those four collisions, three were rear enders and one was an angled collision. It was an angled collision that Travis was trying to avoid when his car struck the utility pole.
The distinguishing factor for a reportable crash is done by damage estimates of the vehicles involved. Shiley said he believes the amount of damage required is at least $1,500 for the crash to be considered as reported.
Sandy Myers, a VDOT communications manager, explained that the warranting criteria are not created at the state level.
“The warrants are federally mandated criteria,” she said. “It’s nothing that VDOT came up with on its own. These are our national criteria… It (the data we use) comes from the state police report and we simply access the database. We are not the owners of this data.”
Myers also explained the reason for such stringent and meticulous regulations is to ensure that every variable has been taken into account.
“We use the warrants to ensure that a signal is put in at the right place,” Myers said. “If you put a signal in the wrong location, it can actually increase traffic accidents. We need to be sure that we don’t make a situation worse… The data really helps the evaluation on what will work and what won’t work.”
Additionally, the process of converting the light in its present iteration into a regular three-colored traffic signal isn’t as easy as some may think, said Shiley.
“It would require some work to get that functioning,” he said. “It’s not a matter of opening a door and flipping a switch. A brand new traffic signal will cost $300,000… We don’t have any available records on cost of conversion of this type.”
Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org