CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — The hits just keep on coming for the little brick house on Fairmount Boulevard at South Taylor Road.
Last November, a sedan fleeing police down South Taylor went airborne, crashing through the front wall of John Gall’s home and landing in his kitchen — all while he was in the next room nodding off on the couch around 12:30 a.m.
This prompted Gall to put up a “Where’s my guardrail?” sign along the front of his property, referring to a guardrail he says was there when he bought the house in the late 1990s. It remained in place until around 2005, when Fairmount underwent a major reconstruction project.
Late on July 26, the sign was still there and Gall was again half-asleep on the living room couch. The home restoration project was finally wrapping up.
“I heard a crash and I looked out the front windows, but didn’t see anything,” Gall recalled. “Then I opened the side door and my car that had been parked in the driveway was now up at the bottom of my steps.”
Gall’s 2012 Subaru was mangled beyond repair, with someone’s “GMC” truck insignia deposited on the Forester’s seat. He then heard someone moaning from inside a 2008 Acadia resting on its side.
Police estimated that the Acadia was going 80 mph down South Taylor when the driver ran the red light at Fairmount and missed the turn.
As to whether it would have made any difference in this instance, “had a guardrail been in place along the length of my property, it might have clipped him. I’m done asking for a guardrail, but I’m not taking the sign down until something gets resolved,” Gall said.
To that end, Gall and his attorney met Monday (Aug. 1) with Mayor Kahlil Seren, who had arrived on the scene that night as well.
“According to my attorney, it was a ‘productive meeting’ and ‘a good start,’ and we are awaiting the city’s response,” Gall said. “I may think they’re blowing smoke right now, but the city is aware of it.”
There was also mention of a temporary barricade of some sort being installed while the city contemplates a long-term solution.
In a news release, city officials said they share Gall’s concerns about the “repeated accidents at his home,” noting that they have “met with him repeatedly during the last year to find ways to prevent or minimize the damage from future incidents.”
This most recent incident was the third crash since Gall purchased his home. At least a decade ago, Gall had a Ford Ranger also sitting in his driveway that was totaled by a group of juveniles who were fleeing police in a stolen car and speeding at about 80 mph as well.
In last week’s case, city officials pointed out that “police did not initiate pursuit of the fleeing vehicle.” An officer had attempted a traffic stop near Cedar Road and South Taylor because the driver was speeding then.
Upon police exiting the cruiser, the driver took off. Since it was only a traffic offense at that point, the officer did not give chase.
“Despite his sign asking, ‘Where’s my guardrail?’ Mr. Gall has been aware for months that Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) regulations prevent the city from granting his request that it install a short guardrail in front of his home,” the press release stated.
Instead, the city has presented “other options that might help shield his home from an oncoming vehicle, including installing — all at the city’s expense — large stones or bollards along the front edge of his property. Mr. Gall has so far rejected all of the city’s proposed solutions.”
After Monday’s meeting and with rain in the forecast, Gall was using tarps to wrap items in the garage after contractors that day removed the remainder of the roof.
He was also scheduled to meet with claims adjusters that day about the garage. Like the house, it’s covered by insurance, although he only had a liability policy on the Forester.
As he was outside early Sunday afternoon, two men pulled up in front of the house, telling Gall “you’re a celebrity,” to which he replied, “sadly, yes.”
The pair in the car, who work in landscaping, then recommended he place large rocks in his yard.
Asked if he was considering selling the house — which he had just paid off — Gall replied, “Who would buy it?
“For me, there’s some righteous indignation going on, but (after three crashes) I’m all right, and everything in the house and garage can be replaced,” Gall said.
He noted that his girlfriend doesn’t park in his driveway, won’t go in his kitchen and is not comfortable sitting on his couch.
Meanwhile, the latest errant driver, identified as Jayson Mitchell, 34, of Maple Heights, reportedly remained hospitalized early this week from his injuries, believed to include a broken leg, after firefighters had to cut him out of the SUV with extrication equipment.
Police recovered a semi-automatic handgun, unknown pills and a digital scale from the GMC. Mitchell was cited for driving under suspension, failure to control, causing an accident resulting in property damage, driving on a tree lawn and not wearing a seatbelt.
Both the gun and the suspected drugs are undergoing further analysis.
As for the presence of a guardrail in the past, Seren told council Monday that in examining satellite images going back to 1993, they still haven’t found evidence of one being there.
“It shows the complexity of addressing road safety issues,” Seren said. “And this city and administration is not without sympathy for the situation.”
Seren told council he has been upfront with Gall in letting him know what can be done.
“The City of Cleveland Heights will continue to work with Mr. Gall to find ways to reduce the risk to his home that comply with ODOT regulations and do not create greater risks for motorists, pedestrians and other nearby residences,” the press release stated.
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