CANAJOHARIE – On late Thursday afternoon, Matt Stanley was on a ladder, hanging a wreath outside his wife’s shop in the Village of Canajoharie when he felt the ground shake. He whipped his head around and realized a semi-truck had just crashed into the village’s beloved 1920s “dummy” traffic light, which sits on a pedestal in the middle of an intersection that splits in five directions.
Stanley said he quickly climbed down the ladder, and, with ribbon and some wire still in hand, he chased after a Western Express truck driving away.
Stanley and his wife, Janet Stanley, who owns Lee’s Shops at Wagner Square, say they called the Canajoharie Police Department. Officers stopped the driver about a quarter mile from the scene, according to Police Chief Bryan MacFadden. Now, the driver faces possible criminal charges, and the village is left trying to decide what to do about its historical light. This is the second time since August that a tractor-trailer has damaged the light. It’s also been streaked with tire marks in previous incidents, something locals refer to as “bouncing.”
In Thursday’s incident, which was reported shortly before 4 p.m., the driver, Abdias Alvareste, of Palm Bay, Florida, was operating a tractor-trailer with wheels that were too far back, according to MacFadden. He said wheels on 53-foot trailers are not supposed to be more than 41 feet behind the hitch, and this truck had wheels all the way back, which may have contributed to the wheels clipping the light as the truck passed. Alvareste also faces a penalty for fleeing the scene of an accident where property damage occurred, according to MacFadden. Alvareste is due to appear in the Village of Canajoharie Court on Nov. 30, according to the Canajoharie Police Department’s report. The report says that Alvareste “stated he didn’t know he hit anything.”
Matt Stanley said the crash caused quite the stir in the neighborhood.
“Everybody came out of the woodwork. Our intersection was relatively quiet, but people came out shouting, ‘get him,’ and ‘he took out the light.’”
The light, which was toppled in Thursday’s crash, is a source of pride for the village of Canajoharie, the Stanleys said.
“We just love it. It is part of our landscape,” said Matt Stanley. “The thought of anything else just wouldn’t fit.”
Janet Stanley added that the light, which she said was installed in 1926, is part of the village’s history.
“It is part of our heritage. We celebrate it as one of our icons here,” Janet Stanley said. “It is part of us. It is on our list of things that are important to us.”
However, Janet Stanley acknowledged that the light could cause confusion because it sits in the middle of so many adjoining roads.
“It is a very awkward intersection,” she said. The light sat where Montgomery, Church and Mohawk streets meet NY State Route 10.
The light was also damaged on August 10 when another tractor-trailer dislodged the light from its base while trying to make a U-turn, according to a Canajoharie Police Department report.
MacFadden said inexperienced truck drivers were to blame in both incidents.
“It’s inexperienced people driving large vehicles and not being aware of the situation,” MacFadden said. “It is just people who don’t understand the size of the rig they are driving.”
Matt Stanley said he thinks the biggest problem is tractor-trailer drivers choosing to not take the designated truck route to the Thruway.
Many municipalities have taken down dummy lights, citing safety concerns, according to MacFadden and Janet Stanley. However, at least three such lights exist in New York state, with Canajoharie owning the only remaining dummy light in upstate New York.
People in Canajoharie will have to figure out how and whether to refurbish the light, said Janet Stanley, who is also the president of the Canajoharie–Palatine Bridge Chamber of Commerce. She said options include mitigations to make the light more visible or barriers that could protect it from vehicles. For instance, Croton-on-the-Hudson’s dummy light features a protective brick base.
One option is to entirely replace the dummy light with a modern hanging light. But Janet Stanley said such a light wouldn’t have the same charm.
“It would totally change the landscape,” she said. “It would be hideous with all the wires it would take to hang it.”
She said the goal was to repair the light, rather than replace it.
“It’s part of our community, seen sitting in our streets for so many years,” she said. “Whatever it is going to take to get our light back, our intentions are to bring it back.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.