When a car crashing through the trees in his front yard woke Karl Veit one night last year, Veit took it calmly. "I just knew it was a fluke," he recalls.
A few months later, two more motorists lost control of their vehicles in front of Veit's home on Braddock Road in Fairfax County and went hurtling across his lawn. A month later, a Vietnamese woman died of injuries she suffered after her car careened through Veit's neighbor's yard and came to rest in a stream bed.
"There's a real history to this," says Veit, who, with his neighbors, has been left shaken, fearful and angry at the repeated intrusions on his property and what they see as the Virginia highway department's do-nothing attitude.
"The former owner of my home had his leg broken (by a car) while he stood in the driveway," Veit said. "When he sold me the house he neglected to mention I'd find an occasional totaled car on my lawn."
According to Veit and his neighbors, there have been 10 accidents in their neighborhood in the last year, most of them at night after drivers struck a traffic island on a sharp curve at the intersection of Braddock Road and Clifton Street, about three miles east of the beltway.
Appeals to highway officials to install a guardrail in front of the homes were refused, Veit said.
In exasperation, Veit and his neighbors finally decided to establish a "combat zone" defense perimeter to keep out the lethal night visitors. Veit bought six old, 12-inch-thick telephone poles and cut them into six-foot sections.
"I dug the holes myslef in July and put them down three feet deep," Veit said. His neighbor, Roger Pajer, "hired a guy to use an auger to put his telephone poles in. He's got a ring of them around his front yard.
"Two weeks later a car came through at 2:30 a.m. and knocked them (Veit's poles) clear out of the ground. The poles didn't even slow them down. My wife was struggling to get dressed and standing near the door when the guy started pounding on the front door. She nearly hit the ceiling," Veit said.
A few days earlier, on July 4, Veit, his wife Emily, and their two children, 3-year-old Charlotte and 12-year-old Eric, were shooting off fireworks when "a car seemed to materialize out of the smoke," Emily Veit said. "That one just missed hitting someone."
Veit, who said he is determined to dig in and stay at his split-level home, then drove out to a Fiarfax County rock quarry and purchased "several 1,000-pound boulders. I put them up between the poles and just knew that would stop them."
Staring at the line of two-foot-high boulders, friends told Veit the neighborhood was beginning to look like the Maginot Line, the extensive French defense bunkers that failed to stop German armies in World War II. Veit's boulders were equally effective.
"On July 21, at about noon, a car lost control and knocked two boulders about 20 feet. Another driver lost control Sept. 21 and almost knocked the boulder into my dogwood tree. I can't move it back into place. It's too heavy to budge," Veit said.
Veit's neighbors expressed similar dismay with the situation.
"There are 50 to 100 school children who walk past here every day. Its dangerous," said John Radenbush, who lives next door. "Two months ago a guy knocked down an electrical pole in the yard. Earlier than that, a pickup truck sheared off a pole, hit my car, and caved in the bricks on my porch."
Fairfax Supervisor Audrey Moore (D-Annandale) has supported the guardrail suggestion, but Dennis Gribok, assistant engineer for the state highway department, said existing safety precautions in the form of "maximum safe speed-20 mph" signs and flashing yellow caution lights, are sufficient.
"The department will not place an obstacle (a guardrail) that would be more dangerous for motorists than the existing situation," Gribok said.
"That's basic bureaucratese' for saying they want my front yard as a buffer zone," Veit retorts. "They think it's safer for the motorist to have my trees and porch to run into."
Gribok insists the problem is the "erratic action and speed" of motorists who ignore the posted 20 mph speed limit. But Veit claims that none of the surprised motorists, who are usually not injured in the accidents, have been cited for either reckless driving or speeding.