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Traffic moves along on U.S. 501 in Aynor on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

Chad and Brooke Rank know their daughter would have supported The Kali Project.

They just wish she wasn’t the inspiration for the campaign. 

“This would have been so important to her,” Brooke Rank said. 

Sixteen-year-old Kali Rank died Oct. 2 after being severely injured five days earlier in a wreck on U.S. 501 in Aynor. Her death has led family and friends to urge state and local officials to change the traffic pattern and speed limit in that section of Aynor.

Just before 4 p.m. on Sept. 27, Horry County Fire Rescue was called to 2945 U.S. 501 East near the post office in Aynor for a two-vehicle collision, according to the agency's news release. Reports said there was entrapment in one vehicle while another vehicle caught fire. Three people were transported to the hospital with injuries. One was taken by medical helicopter.

Ash Baker, a coworker and friend of Rank’s mother, and Kevin Williams, an Aynor resident and parent, hope the efforts of The Kali Project lead to the installation of a stop light at the intersection of U.S. 501 and Ninth Avenue in Aynor. The intersection sits near the Dollar Tree and Waffle House. 

Brooke Rank said the focus of the group is something her daughter would have embraced. She was a quiet helper. Unbeknownst to her parents, Kali Rank had added herself to the national organ donor registry when she received her new driver's license. She ultimately helped some 50 people with various organ and tissue donations.

Kali, a junior IB student at AHS, also played club soccer with Coast FA in Myrtle Beach.

Over the last week, more than 300 people have joined The Kali Project. Baker hopes to eventually sell T-shirts, hold fundraisers and maybe host a yearly event in Kali’s honor.

The project focuses on the section of the town where the speed limit slows to 45 miles per hour near Aynor High School.

“There needs to be a light out there,” Williams said. “I don’t know how many times I’ve almost gotten hit.”

Williams has two daughters in Horry County Schools, one who has her driver’s license and one who will in a few years. He said that even though the entrance to Aynor High School is not directly on U.S. 501, the traffic gets snarled enough there to make things dangerous.

With school buses trying to get onto the highway from Ninth Avenue and students who park near the Dollar Tree and Waffle House trying to get out, it gets chaotic, he said.

Baker, an AHS alumnus, said she wants the section of the highway to be safer for her little sister who will be driving soon, as well as any other student.

“It’s been a problem for so long,” she said, noting that two small signs pointing out the speed limit change aren’t enough, and cars do not slow down as they should.

In the last 10 years, there have been 203 collisions on U.S. 501 between Seventh and Ninth Avenues in Aynor, according to Rachel Urconis, public affairs coordinator with the S.C. Department of Public Safety. Eighty-nine of those wrecks included injuries.

Baker would like to have an increased police presence in the area similar to what she sees at Conway High School along the stretch of U.S. 501 in Conway during arrivals and dismissals. She doesn’t see why the two schools have such different approaches to traffic. 

When asked about the town’s policing there, Aynor Mayor John Gardner said that since the direct entrances to the school are on Jordanville Road and Ninth Avenue, town law enforcement has focused on those areas.

“Most of our focus has been closer to the schools at the point where motorists enter and exit the schools,” he said. “This is primarily due to vehicles staging on the secondary roads for arrival and dismissal. This was indeed a tragic accident. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family.”

Gardner said that the Town of Aynor is working with the appropriate agencies in the investigation of the accident.

As a state road, the S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT) is in charge of any stop light installation. Should a school zone speed limit be mandated, the request to do so would have to come from the school district.

Law enforcement monitoring at schools is not one of SCDOT’s roles, said Pete Poore, director of communications for SCDOT.

Horry County Schools spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said that each municipality throughout the district may have different levels of police presence at school arrivals and dismissals, simply due to manpower.

Shanda Allen, District 11 member of the Horry County Board of Education, said that years ago when the Aynor overpass was installed, it was originally meant to help students get back to the other side of U.S. 501 safely.

Allen said the school zones on Jordanville Road and Ninth Avenue help direct students back to the light at Jordanville Road or send them down Ninth Avenue towards the overpass, away from the highway intersection, to the other side of the highway.

Williams and Baker cite the major growth of the area as one reason the secondary road school zones may not be enough.

The Ranks, who moved to Horry County two years ago from Kansas, said that they are overwhelmed at how the community embraced them after the accident, and they hope that The Kali Project can help make changes to keep other students, including their eighth-grader Brody, safe once they are behind the wheel as well.

Williams plans to contact state representatives and do all he can to help The Kali Project succeed.

“This is our home,” he said. “This is our community. Let’s get it fixed so we can breathe a little easier. Protect our citizens, get people to slow down.”

Horry County Board of Education Chairman Ken Richardson said Friday that he has spoken with Superintendent Rick Maxey and they are getting information on what steps would need to be taken to get a school zone put directly on U.S. 501 by Aynor High.

“I want to do what we can to try and make it as safe as we can there, and for all the students in Horry County,” Richardson said.

The Kali Project can be found on Facebook, and Kali’s teammates on her Coast FA soccer team started a Go Fund Me page to help the Ranks with expenses. 

A Celebration of Life service will be held for Kali on Oct. 11 at the Aynor High School football stadium at 6 p.m. The Ranks request casual attire, since they said Kali never liked anything dressier than jeans and sweatshirts.

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