Wednesday, June 06, 2001

I-75 stretch suddenly deadly

10 deaths since November in 9-mile area

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MONROE — No one seems to know why a short stretch of Interstate 75, mostly in Warren County, went from safe to deadly.

        During all of 1999 and the first 10 months of 2000, no one was killed within the nine-mile span between Franklin and Monroe. But 10 people have died there in six median-crossover crashes since November, including a Georgia woman and her twin daughters Monday.

        Now the motoring public is fearful, police are frustrated and state transportation officials are scrambling for a solution.

        “We are scratching our heads just as much as you are,” Janis Cravens, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Transportation's District 8 office in Lebanon, said Tuesday. “To us, it looks like an anomaly. We don't know why it's happening. But we need to get out there and do something — now. The general public wants to see us doing something.”

        While the Ohio State Highway Patrol has once again increased patrols for speeders and other traffic violators in the problem zone, transportation officials are planning to install “rumble strips,” ridged asphalt, along the roadway's inner edges.

        “That will be our first line of attack,” Ms. Cravens said.

        Sgt. Bob Phillips of the patrol's Lebanon post said he had already assigned an extra trooper to the area Tuesday, as officials were preparing to file criminal charges against the driver considered at fault in Monday's triple fatal.

   MILEPOST 31 — Nov. 17: Gina McGeorge, 37, of Lebanon, died when her 1996 Dodge Neon crossed the median on Interstate 75 and was struck broadside by a pickup truck and horse trailer south of the Middletown exit. Alcohol was a factor; her blood-alcohol level was 0.16. It was unclear whether she was using a seat belt.
   MILEPOST 33 — Jan. 17: Roshan Hamied, 30, of Miamisburg, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.26, more than 2.5 times the legal limit, while driving the wrong way in the northbound lanes of I-75 near Middletown. Sylvia B. Gibson and Norma G. Cabral, both of Dayton, Ohio, were killed in a head-on collision with Mr. Hamied, who also died. None of the victims was wearing seat belts.
   MILEPOST 28 — Jan. 24: On northbound I-75 south of Ohio 63, Wayne Swanson, 42, of Dayton, Ohio, was killed after a vehicle crossed the grassy median and hit his 1989 Nissan pickup head-on.
   MILEPOST 30 — March 1: Grigori Solka, 32, a native of Russia, died in a crash near Ohio 63. His 1993 Oldsmobile Achieva was northbound and crossed into the path of a southbound vehicle. He was not wearing a seat belt; he and his passenger, Kuranbayev Nariman, 44, also of Russia, were ejected. Mr. Nariman remains in serious condition at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton.
   MILEPOST 35 — March 11: Jeremy Neargarder, 23, of Franklin, died in a crash midway between Ohio 122 and Ohio 123. His 1991 Ford Mustang was southbound and crossed the median. His vehicle was struck broadside by a 1992 Pontiac Grand Prix driven by Lee Thomas Jr., 37, of Dayton, Ohio. Mr. Thomas was in serious condition Tuesday at Miami Valley.
   MILEPOST 30 — June 4: Nancy Hinkle, 38, and her twin 4-year-old daughters, Emily and Elizabeth, were killed when the front of their southbound car crashed into the side of a northbound Ford Explorer that had crossed the median.
   Source: Warren County Coroner's Office, Ohio State Highway Patrol
        Still, it was unclear whether either approach would help stem the fatalities.

        Increased police patrols have been tried before, and traffic engineers say they have found no notable design problems with the road.

        In fact, the relatively flat, straight road has a traffic crash rate 50 percent lower than the state average. On Ohio's four-lane, divided highways, the accident rate is 1.44 per million vehicle-miles. On the Warren stretch, it's 0.71, Ms. Cravens said. “So it's not been especially accident-prone,” she said.

        As for the grassy median that motorists have been crossing in recent months, it's an average of 60 feet wide, considered a healthy-sized expanse that should give motorists a chance to regain control of their vehicles.

        But, Ms. Cravens said, that guideline assumes motorists are operating in good weather and obeying the speed limit.

        Monday's crash happened in heavy rain. Troopers have said they think Jerad Rushlow, 19, of Newport, Mich., was driving too fast for those conditions, but no estimated speed for his vehicle was available Tuesday.

        Mr. Rushlow's northbound 1996 Ford Explorer crossed the median just north of Ohio 63 and traveled into the path of a southbound 1999 Buick driven by Gary Hinkle, 49, of Peachtree City, Ga. Mr. Hinkle was seriously injured. His wife, Nancy, 48, and 3-year-old daughters, Emily and Elizabeth, were killed.

        Contrary to earlier reports, the twins were not ejected from their child safety seats, Sgt. Phillips said.

        One of the girls remained in her seat, he said. The other girl was found on the floor near her seat, suggesting that someone, perhaps a rescuer, may have unbuckled the seat belt, Sgt. Phillips said.

        Emphasizing that the complex investigation had just begun, Sgt. Phillips couldn't say how or why Mr. Hinkle was able to survive the crash.

        “All the impact was right in his area,” he said.

Mom died with twins for whom she longed

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