The death of a 17-year-old Dunn Loring youth, whose car hit a 150-year-old oak tree at Old Courthouse and Creek Crossing roads in Vienna July 25, has revived a longstanding debate about the need for improvements on Old Courthouse Road.

The tree stands just inches from the edge of Old Courthouse Road. Residents along the road, most of whom do not want the tree cut down, said the installation of a three-way stop sign and the trimming of foliage at the intersection would make the area safer.

But the friends and family of Peter W. Lisenby, who died when he drove off the road into the tree, said that removing the tree and flattening the hump in the stretch of road before the intersection are the best ways to save other lives at the intersection.

Part of the tree grows on the state road right of way adjacent to the property of Mrs. David Drew, who says that removing the tree is not the answer. "We've been here since '59, and if my late husband knew that people were talking about cutting the tree down, he'd be after them with a shotgun," she said.

Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Marianne Pastor said that a state-appointed environmentalist has inspected the area and "we are waiting for a formal recommendation from the environmental inspector. We hope to have that recommendation by the end of {the} week." Pastor said the state is considering improving the entire intersection by removing the hump in the road and the foliage, and cutting down the tree through a safety site distance improvement program, which is federally funded.

"It is a dangerous intersection," Vienna Mayor Charles Robinson Jr. said last week. "The portion of Old Courthouse Road outside of the Vienna town limit has not been improved for the last 40 years because local government officials are unwilling to commit land for a widening of the road. My understanding is that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted in their last meeting to ask the Department of Transportation to investigate the conditions at that particular intersection."

On a motion by Vice Chairman Martha Pennino, the board voted last week to ask the state Department of Transportation to review this section of Old Courthouse Road, particularly its intersection with Creek Crossing, and come back with recommendations for improvements.

After the accident, a large red-and-white teardrop and the words "In Memory Of" were painted on the tree's damaged trunk. Resident Alex V. Methven, who has lived on that corner for eight years, said the recent inscription has made many motorists slow, nearly causing rear-end accidents. "The tree is not the problem if people would be careful and obey the speed limits," Methven said. "Take the tree down and the speedsters will go through there at 60 miles an hour."

Police records show that traffic is heavy on Old Courthouse Road during morning and evening rush hours and that there have been 19 accidents at the intersection since January 1985, with one death, and seven injuries and 11 involving property damage. Fairfax County police have ruled out excessive speed as a factor in the Lisenby accident, but said he was not wearing a seat belt.

A group of Lisenby's friends gathered recently to express their sorrow and talk about an effort to push for removal of the tree. "We think removing this and the curve on the road would help," said John Gist.

"Peter was just a normal guy. He graduated in June from Marshall {High School}, was a lifeguard and soccer coach for the Vienna League."

Roz Kitchen, the mother of Lisenby's best friend John, said that part of the problem has been the Vienna Town Council's vote on Aug. 22, 1984, to close off five of the smaller side streets that feed into Old Courthouse and Creek Crossing Road during morning and evening rush hours, thereby increasing traffic at the intersection. "I think the road should be widened or they should get rid of the tree," said Kitchen. Marie Kisner, public information officer for the Town of "We've been here since '59, and if my late husband knew that people were talking about cutting the tree down, he'd be after them with a shotgun."

-- Mrs. David Drew

Vienna, says this action was taken to prevent commuters from using small side streets as a shortcut to Old Courthouse Road.

Lou Pagano, who 31 years ago built a house diagonally across from the tree on Old Courthouse Road, said he has lost quite a few mailboxes and small trees to speeding motorists. Pagano also said residents' requests for stop signs and blinking yellow lights have been ignored. "They gave us a hard time when we asked for signs. This is the first time that this tree was hit head-on. I don't believe they should knock the tree down. They should put a three-way stop sign that would slow the traffic down and then cut foliage on the sides of the road to allow people to see."

The installation of a three-way stop sign was recommended to the Virginia Department of Transportation three years ago by then-Fairfax County Police Chief Carroll D. Buracker. Buracker wrote a letter to resident Alex Methven on Aug. 27, 1984, in which he stated that he would ask the Transportation Department to install a three-way stop, widen the shoulders on Old Courthouse Road, and reduce the speed limit from 35 miles per hour to 25 in the stretch of road that includes the dangerous intersection.