Special Report: Disturbing the Peace

KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. (WAVY) — As transportation officials come closer to finalizing plans to widen a dangerous road in North Carolina, some citizens fear a local cemetery could be at risk.

“If they take any part of it, it’s just wrong,” said Kim Murray, standing near her family’s plots at the Hilltop Cemetery.

The land rests along Colington Road, a curvy, heavily-traveled corridor that connects Colington Island to Highway 158 in Kill Devil Hills.

Gallery: Hilltop Cemetery in Kill Devil Hills

For years, citizens have urged the North Carolina Department of Transportation to improve the road. But now project engineers are facing push back, after some people observed survey stakes at the cemetery.

Murray said she saw one about five feet from her husband’s foot stone, and panicked. She worries the project could cause her to lose the nearby plots her family has reserved, or, worse, require her to relocate her husband’s remains.

“I got upset, you know. I went through, I buried my husband, I don’t want to have to bury him again. I don’t want my kids to have to go through this, have to say goodbye to their father. They shouldn’t have to do this again.”

Murray’s husband, Nags Head Police Sgt. Earl Murray, was laid to rest in 2009, after dying in the line of duty. He was responding to a 911 call, when his service vehicle hydroplaned and crashed off of Highway 158.

“He was such a wonderful man, loved by so many down here,” Murray said.

She was joined by dozens of supporters during an interview with 10 On Your Side, many expressing concerns for their family’s plots, too.

NCDOT officials told 10 On Your Side that it is their goal to avoid the cemetery. The survey stakes spotted are used to collect data, and do not necessarily indicate where exactly the land will be impacted.

“NCDOT works to avoid cemeteries if at all possible,” said engineer Shawn Mebane.

Still, Murray has her doubts. Her family launched a petition, so far receiving more than 600 signatures.

At the same time, a Facebook page titled “Colington Road needs a multi use path” has nearly 1,000 followers.

Sandy Ball and her husband launched the group after observing dangerous conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians. It’s a mission they’ve been committed to for seven years.

“Looking at the road, you can see big problems, because there’s no room,” Ball said. “We need wider shoulders… There are no shoulders.”

The current NCDOT plan involves about 4.3 miles of the five-mile road. A multi-use path, for both bikers and pedestrians, is planned on park service land from Baum Bay Drive to Bermuda Bay Boulevard.

Further west, from Baum Bay Drive to Colington Drive, NCDOT plans to construct a bike path, which requires expansion on both sides of the road. Private properties would definitely be affected, while impact on the cemetery is only possible.

Ball, too, would like to see the cemetery untouched, but she trusts NCDOT officials to do their due diligence.

“I’d like to see NCDOT come up with a better solution than taking down the wall and moving the graves,” Ball said. “It doesn’t really seem necessary, but I’m not an engineer… Progress is painful sometimes.”

The proposal also involves widening the Highway 158 intersection and raising the road at eight locations in order to reduce flooding.

Murray told 10 On Your Side she isn’t opposed to plans to widen the road, so long as the cemetery isn’t touched.

“There’s gotta be another way of doing it,” she said.

Murray and her daughters have since left the Outer Banks, but always planned to be buried there.

“When God wants to take us home, we should be able to be put to rest here, and the families that we leave behind should be able to find that comfort knowing that all their family is buried right here together.”

Mebane said that the final proposal should be completed within the next several weeks. At that point, a public hearing might be held. Several hearings were held in previous years.

The project is expected to cost roughly $10 million with construction beginning in late 2018 or early 2019.