Smithfield Herald

DOT bolsters safety on N.C. 96

The N.C. Department of Transportation has made safety improvements to the section of N.C. 96 where 16-year-old Lanie Bizzell died.

Around 8 a.m. on March 2, Bizzell was driving from her home near Selma to her church in Clayton when her car flipped and landed in a pond.

The N.C. Highway Patrol has ruled out speed, alcohol and cellphone use but doesn’t know what caused the accident, said 1st Sgt. V.E. Burton. “As far as a particular reason why she went off the road, we just didn’t see anything out of the ordinary,” he said.

The DOT has added guardrails and widened the shoulder at the site of the accident, which happened on N.C. 96 about a half-mile south of N.C 42.

Spokeswoman Jennifer Garifo said the DOT investigates any time an accident leads to a death. The investigators determined the stretch of road unsafe and suggested the improvements, which cost $80,000. The money came from the DOT’s Spot Safety program, she said.

After Bizzell’s accident, more than 60 people contacted the DOT about the stretch of road, Garifo said. The state completed the improvements in early April after about a week’s work.

Garifo said anyone can report an unsafe stretch of road, and she encouraged people to call the DOT office in Wilson at 252-237-6164.

Garifo said two accidents had happened previously in that same spot, one in April 2011 and another in August 2012. Speeding was a factor in at least one of those, and both resulted in “moderate injuries,” she said. But moderate injuries don’t prompt DOT investigations.

Speaking on behalf of the family, Bizzell’s aunt, Joan Mizelle, said she is thankful for the changes and for the DOT’s quick action.

“The family is just really grateful and thankful for the number of people who shared how Lanie touched their lives through her kindness,” Mizelle added. “She radiated joy, and she had a way of making everyone feel special.”

Bizzell was passionate about her faith and church, Horne Memorial United Methodist in Clayton. Her youth pastor, Brad Lopp, said he too is thankful for the safety improvements. “What happened to Lanie is just tragic and awful, but this is a good thing that came out of that, and I think Lanie would appreciate that too – that hopefully that will maybe prevent something like that from ever happening to somebody else,” he said.

Lopp said Bizzell’s joy and giving nature have inspired other young people to start a scholarship in her name. Students are raising money to send others to events hosted by the N.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church. Bizzell loved going to youth events and was supposed to attend a church conference in Washington, D.C., and New York City about a week after her death.

“Lanie would absolutely love that because she was so committed to her faith and so committed to this particular part of things that youth group does,” Lopp said.