County traffic fatalities are up

While statewide vehicle fatalities are on track to be the lowest in recorded history, Washington County has experienced one of its most deadly years in recent history. With the often icy and sometimes boozy last days of December still ahead, Washington County has already experienced triple the three fatalities it saw in 2012.

Eight crashes resulted in nine deaths in the county this year, but only one of those-the most recent-was alcohol related, said Lt. Carlos Smith, commander of the Marietta Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

On Nov. 11, 26-year-old Alisha Hurst, of Belpre, died after she failed to negotiate a curve on Washington County 56, and overturned a vehicle also transporting her husband and 3-year-old daughter.

“She was intoxicated. Her blood alcohol content was .168 percent, more than twice the legal limit,” said Smith.

Only one of the three vehicle fatalities in Morgan County this year involved alcohol as well. The alcohol-related fatality there was Morgan County’s first of the year and involved 19-year-old Shaun Stanley, of Chesterhill, who died when he drove off the road Feb. 2. Neither Stanley, nor his passenger-Corey Sneider, 33, of Chesterhill-had been wearing seat belts and Stanley later tested a .210 blood alcohol content, said Smith.

The low number of OVI-related fatalities correspond to a decreased number of OVI arrests in the county-202 this year compared to 243 at this same time last year in Washington County and nine compared to 15 at this time last year in Morgan County.

“We like to think we’re being proactive and contributed to that with driver education and overall driver awareness,” said Smith.

In fact, increased enforcement and combining manpower with other law enforcement organizations may have been a big factor in driving down OVI-related fatalities statewide, said Lt. Anne Ralston with the patrol.

As of Dec. 6, there were 277 statewide fatalities where alcohol was believed to be a factor this year. At that same time last year, that number was 468-nearly half of 1,122 total fatalities in 2012.

Overall fatalities statewide are on track to be the lowest on record and could possibly fall under the 1,000 mark for the first time since Ohio began keeping track of vehicle fatalities in 1936, said Ralston.

Currently there are 897 confirmed vehicle fatalities and 23 unconfirmed provisionals, meaning a death could end up being attributing to factors other than the crash itself, she said, citing numbers through Dec. 6.

The lesser number of OVI-related crashes locally is a good thing, said Smith. But at the same time, it means that most of the fatalities in the county this year were caused simply by not paying enough attention, he said.

“That’s what causes us more concern. A lot of these are one-car crashes that could have been prevented,” said Smith.

A three-vehicle accident resulting in the death of 55-year-old Robert J. Goddard on Sept. 16 will likely be the first case in the county where the fatality is attributed to texting.

Zachary Dumas, 23, of Marietta, was indicted by a Washington County grand jury this week on a first-degree misdemeanor count of vehicular homicide, a second-degree misdemeanor count of vehicular manslaughter and a third-degree felony count of tampering with evidence.

Prosecutors say he was texting while driving, causing the accident.

The case will mark the first time texting charges have been linked to a vehicular homicide in the county, said Washington County Prosecutor Jim Schneider.

“We’ve had two texting cases where they resulted in serious injuries, both before the texting law was enacted,” he said.

Of the other seven fatal crashes this year, the first three crashes of the year were drivers who drove off the roadway, he said.

Virginia Lockhart, 62, of Marietta, drove over an embankment on Hadley Hollow Road on Jan. 27, resulting in her death.

Steven Pounders, 56, of Vincent, died nearly two weeks after driving off the side of Ohio 339 in Belpre Township on May 8.

Both Dwight Knapp, 40, of Marietta, and his passenger Chyennea Uppole, 20, of Vincent, died July 4 when the milk tanker truck Knapp was driving went over an embankment on Ohio 7.

Another fatal crash on I-77 on Oct. 19 was attributed to failure to control. Theodore Thomas, 34, of Bridgeport, W.Va., had not been wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from his pickup truck when he ran into the median and rolled his vehicle several times.

The sole county fatality involving a motorcycle is being attributed to failure to yield. William Beebe, 30, was thrown from his motorcycle when it was struck by 66-year-old David Spindler. Beebe had not been wearing a helmet, said Smith.

There was also one tractor fatality in the county this year. Arlan Ullmann, 49, of Vincent, was killed when a bale of hay broke loose from his tractor, shifting the weight and causing it to roll over, said Smith.

The main thing people can do to prevent accidents is plan ahead when driving, said Smith.

“Make sure your vehicle is winter ready. Have an emergency kit. Make sure your tires have enough tread,” he said.

And as the holidays approach it is important to line up designated drivers or plan to take taxis well in advance of going to an event that will include alcohol, he said.

In response to the high number of local fatalities, Smith has been working on forming a Fatal Crash Review Committee.

The committee will include representatives from the Ohio Department of Transportation, all local law enforcement agencies, the Washington County Prosecutor’s Office, Marietta Fire Department and Car Teens, and will be tasked with performing an in-depth review of all local fatalities.

“The goal is to see if there is anything we can change-add a guardrail, put up more signs, refocus our enforcement,” he said.