LITTLE RIVER-ACADEMY — The family and friends of Travis Mireles, 25, who died in an accident at a problematic intersection at Old Highway 95 and FM 93 near Little River-Academy, want to be part of a change so that no one has to endure the pain they’ve had to since Mireles’ death a week ago.
Those are the thoughts and wishes of Theresa Mireles, his aunt, who said everyone referred to her as Travis’ second mom. Mireles said Travis was either living with her or sleeping on her couch.
“The beginnings of his childhood were not the easiest, but there were a lot of hands helping raise him. He was a thrill-seeker with all of the thrills, frills and fun,” Mireles said. “He loved the outdoors — fishing, hunting, scuba diving and even riding skateboards off the roof.”
She talked about the transformation his friends and family started seeing in him about eight months ago. He didn’t graduate high school with his friends, but did get his GED. He enrolled in courses at Texas State Technical College in Waco and was making good grades, Mireles said proudly.
“His instructors said he was the first one to arrive at school and sat on the front row. This was not the Travis we knew that dropped out of high school. Even though he was only there for part of the semester, he was always chosen as the leader of his labs.”
Travis was full of love, Mireles said.
“Kids always gravitated to him. They all called him Uncle Travis.”
After Friday’s visitation and memorial service, all of his buddies stayed behind, popped open a beer at his coffin and “gave him one final salute,” Mireles said. “It was an amazing moment.”
“It wasn’t the intersection’s fault. The road is a continued problem with the poor lighting and it’s hard to see at night. A lot of people run that stop sign. I remember fatalities when I was in high school. I try to avoid going that way,” Mireles said.
Both 17-year-old Jacob Mireles, Travis’ cousin, and Travis had on seatbelts Monday night. Jacob was driving, she said.
“Travis saw one of his friends traveling in front of them. The car stopped and Travis reached over to honk the horn. The car’s driver didn’t recognize Jacob’s truck, and he proceeded across the intersection. Travis said, ‘That’s my buddy!’ He took off his seatbelt and Jacob moved forward into the intersection before looking to his left. That’s when the car hit him. Because Travis unbuckled his seatbelt, it threw him. They weren’t racing, not texting, weren’t on the phone, weren’t drinking. It’s just a horrible accident that happened in a matter of seconds,” Mireles said.
“It was a mistake and something Jacob will regret for the rest of his life. He saw his cousin pass when they were on the ground together, and that is pretty traumatic for someone who is 17 years old. Our focus is to make sure that he’s OK with his well-being,” she added.
If there’s one thing Travis’ family wants people to know, it’s that he was a normal kid with normal opinions, Mireles said.
“While he didn’t have a conventional family, he persevered, was bright, did the right things and helped a lot of people.”
Travis’ friends are the ones who started a petition to get changes made at the intersection that has claimed lives, Mireles said.
“If we can help by making changes with blinking lights or speed bumps, if we can do this with Travis in mind, his death will not be in vain,” she said.
Matthew Hanusch lives now in Temple, but he’s originally from Little River-Academy.
“I have lost countless loved ones due to that road, and tragedy struck once again when my childhood friend was killed last night at the intersection of 93 and Old 95. Everybody around the area knows the reputation of Old 95, be it the dangerous ‘S’ curve between 93 and 36, or the fact that the intersection of 93 and Old 95 could desperately use at least a flashing light,” Hanusch said.
Hanusch started an online petition after Travis’ death, saying he was done seeing people hurt and killed.
Since the petition went online Tuesday, 934 people had signed it by Friday.
Hanusch said he can remember seven people who died on Old Highway 95 or at the intersection with FM 93.
“Something could have been done a long time ago. It could have saved a lot of people from dying. It makes you mad that it’s been neglected, been brought to a long of people’s attention and still been neglected. We’re going to make a push to make sure that something happens,” Hanusch said.
“To us, it’s family and friends. Until someone of importance loses someone, I don’t know how much of an impact it will have on the people we need to impact. But I think it’s starting to be seen by the appropriate people. It’s yet to be seen what they do with it from here. After we get a definitive yes or a definitive no, we’re still going to keep on pushing to make sure it’s taken care of,” he said.
“Let everyone know that anyone who takes part in this can make a difference,” Hanusch added.
The petition may be found online at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/No-more-old95-deaths.
Officials are evaluating the situation, Ken Roberts, a Texas Department of Transportation spokesman, said Thursday.
“We’re doing an evaluation of the situation and discussing possible options with the Bell County Commissioners,” Roberts said. “We’re seeing if we can determine what can possibly be done to improve conditions that would be mutually beneficial.”
Roberts mentioned possibly adding a traffic signal or a flashing beacon, possibly an overpass or a change to the road itself.
“We’ve looked at it before and we’re going to take a fresh look and see if there are any additional safety things we can do,” Tim Brown, Bell County Commissioner, Precinct 2, said. “We’re certainly concerned about the fact there have been some tragic accidents out there.”
That some tragic accidents have happened there is perhaps an understatement, according to TxDOT crash data from 2010 until now.
Just at the intersection of Old Highway 95 and FM 93, two people have died since 2012. Four have had incapacitating injuries. Another 34 have non-incapacitating injuries and 17 had possible injuries, the data showed. That didn’t take into account the number of fatalities on Old Highway 95 itself, like the ones Hanusch remembered.
Commissioner Richard Cortese said there is no visibility issue and there shouldn’t be deaths there.
“We’ve done everything TxDOT has asked us to do to make that intersection safe. People have to do the responsible things when they drive,” Cortese said.
However, he contacted the Waco TxDOT district engineer and asked what had to be done to do another study to see what can be done, he said Friday. Now someone is working to get all of the accident reports and pull the old study.
Cortese mentioned some of the same possibilities that Roberts did.
“An overpass may take five to six years to build by the time they buy the right-of-ways and design it. We know TxDOT’s speed isn’t overreaching,” Cortese said.
Staff Writer Sally Grace Holtgrieve contributed to this report.