Greenwood officials to examine pond safety after deadly weekend accident

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GREENWOOD, Ind. – Greenwood city officials plan to explore possible safety upgrades around a pond that was the scene of a deadly accident over the weekend.

“It’s awful that a tragedy like this has to bring it to our attention,” said Greenwood City Council President, Mike Campbell.  “But it is something we want to take a look at.”

Norman Helmke, 73, died after driving an SUV off Main Street into the pond near State Road 135.  Despite efforts from bystanders and emergency responders, Helmke was pronounced dead at Eskenazi Hospital after he was pulled from the submerged vehicle.  

Investigators have not determined exactly why Helmke drove off the roadway, and it’s not entirely clear that a guardrail near the pond would have saved his life.  However, Rebecca Kapitany, manager of nearby Yiayia’s House of Pancakes, believes a railing or barrier could have made all the difference.

“It’s not our final decision if the guardrails go up or not, but we definitely think that we should have guardrails up there so this doesn’t happen again,” Kapitany said.

“We will get out as soon as possible and study it and meet with property owners and see if there is something that can be done,” said Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers.

Myers said the pond, in the Meridian Oaks shopping center, was built in 1990 and predates a 2005 Greenwood city code that requires guardrails around ponds that are near roadways.  Greenwood’s recently-passed Unified Development Code also requires guardrails around ponds built in new developments.  The requirement, however, are not retroactive.

According to city records, it’s the first accident at that location to result in a vehicle going into the water.

Installing a guardrail along Main Street would be virtually impossible, Myers said, because of the complex utility infrastructure along the roadway.

“Gas lines, water lines, sewer lines, fiber lines, cable lines, those are all between the road and the sidewalk,” Myers said.

Based on what is known about Saturday’s accident, a guardrail next to the water’s edge would not have likely stopped the SUV from going into the water.  However, Campbell said engineers could potentially turn to other safety features near the ledge leading down to the pond.

“Guardrails may not be the best option,” Campbell said.  “But there may be other options we could do to stop traffic or prevent the kind of accident we had the other day.”

Efforts to upgrade safety near the pond could end up being part of a larger effort to identify dangerous ponds around the city.  In 2011, several deadly accidents prompted a citywide study to identify dangerous ponds that didn’t fall under the city’s 2005 code.  The study resulted in federal grant money that eventually paid for guardrails around 11 ponds in different parts of the city.

Myers and Campbell agree it’s time for another such study.

“What we need to do is just go back and look at other ponds that are in the city that don’t have guardrails and look at the reason as to why they were not selected in 2011,” Myers said.

“We did that once and obviously this brings to our attention that there may be other needs in the city, and we need to take a look at that.  I would be in favor of that, yes,” Campbell said.

While there is momentum for another citywide pond study, the timeline for such a project is not known.  Campbell said it could be next year before funding allows for it.

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