50 YEARS LATER
Twins recall 1972 accident that resulted in four-way stop sign in downtown
When 11-year-old twins were hit by a car while crossing Tehachapi’s main street on their way to school in 1972, not much could be done to help them until an ambulance dispatched from Mojave arrived, more than a half-hour later.
Today, Kelly Henson Arciszewski and Tracy Henson Wills live thousands of miles apart, but as twins they share many memories and that accident is one of them.
School had started just the week before and the sisters were walking from their home on H Street to Wells Elementary School, about eight to 10 blocks away. They crossed the railroad tracks at Green Street and were in the crosswalk just south of the train depot when they were hit by a car driven by a teenager.
At the time, the intersection was only a two-way stop, with stop signs on Green Street but not on what was then known as G Street. There were no traffic signals in town. Until the previous year, when the new Highway 58 freeway bypass was completed, all of the state route’s east-west traffic went through town. Only a flashing amber light alerted drivers to slow down at the busy intersection.
The drive of another vehicle heading west saw the girls and stopped in the intersection just before the crosswalk to allow the girls to cross. They headed into the street, but the westbound driver of the car in the high lane didn’t see them — nor could they see the car approaching.
After the collision, the driver of the car pulled Tracy out from under the vehicle and put her on the seat of his car. It was later determined that she had a torn kidney. Kelly was in the street and had an open-to-the-bone injury on her left ankle. They both were bruised and left with lifelong scars.
Within a week, though, they were released from the hospital. Tracy remembers waking up in the hospital but not much of the accident before then.
Kelly wasn’t able to go back to school until December, although Tracy returned earlier. They were both sixth graders, but not in the same class. Kelly had Charles Kraft as a teacher and Tracy was in Lorraine Spacke’s class.
The girls and their brother, Kevin Henson, moved to Tehachapi from Rosedale with their parents when they were 3
years old, about eight years before the accident. Their father, Connie George Henson, was recently out of the military and worked at Monolith Portland Cement Company. Their mom, Helen, was a homemaker.
The family continued living in Tehachapi until the girls finished seventh grade, then moved to Bakersfield where Arciszewski graduated from North High School in 1979. Wills got married while in high school and finished her GED later.
Wills said the children didn’t want to move as they considered Tehachapi their home.
“I still have a very dirty and missing-a-lot-of-fur stuffed animal named ‘Class,’” Arciszewski said. “My classmates gave him to me while I was still in the hospital.”
Their dad died in 2016 and their mom died last year. Kevin Henson is a Native Nations missionary.
Today, Arciszewski lives in Florida and Wills lives in Washington. Despite the distance, they remain close although they haven’t been able to see each other since 2016. When their dad died the two visited Tehachapi, crossing Tehachapi Boulevard together in what Arciszewski called “a trip down memory lane.”
Arciszewski, who has two children, served in the U.S. Navy. She had to prove that her ankle wasn’t still bothering her when she joined. She went on to work in retail management before becoming a paralegal.
Wills did not have long-lasting problems from her kidney damage, she said. She worked several years in healthcare and still works as a director of environmental services with no plans to retire. She has six children, nine grandchildren and a great-grandchild due in May.
With physical wounds healed, Wills said the biggest impact of the accident was that when her children started driving, she worried.
“I have thought of the 16-year-old high school kid who hit us,” she said. “What if it were one of my kids who hit someone? How do you get your kids to understand that it only takes a second to hit someone? I’ve always worried about that.”
And the accident had an immediate impact in Tehachapi. Just five days later, the Tehachapi City Council voted to put up a four-way stop at the intersection of G and Green streets. The street name has changed, but the stop signs are still there.