Thursday, June 07, 2001

Officials search for answers to highway fatalities

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A section of Interstate 75 — described as “death alley” because of a rash of fatalities — is probably no more dangerous than any similar heavily traveled highway, officers say.

        The six fatal median-crossover crashes, which have caused 10 deaths since November, cannot be blamed on the road design, Lt. Michael Black, commander of the Hamilton post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, said Wednesday.

        All six crashes resulted, he said, from driver error.

        One crash involved a driver who suffered a seizure. Three crashes involved motorists impaired with alcohol; two others, including Monday's triple-fatal, unsafe speed.

        “I don't think it's the roadway. We didn't have anyone else crash (on Monday). I think it was driver error,” said Trooper Kevin Bryant, who investigated Monday's crash.

        Police have cited Jerad Rushlow, 19, of Newport, Mich., with three counts of vehicular homicide, a first-degree misdemeanor, involving the deaths of a Georgia woman and her twin 3-year-old daughters. Mr. Rushlow was not seriously hurt, and faces a June 28 arraignment in Lebanon Municipal Court, said Trooper Bryant.

        Even if drivers are causing the wrecks on I-75 between Franklin and Monroe, officials are looking for ways to reduce the likelihood of more fatalities.

        “We're extremely concerned. We don't want to see anyone else killed out there,” Lt. Black said.

        Today, officials from the Ohio Department of Public Safety, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and area law-enforcement agencies will discuss strategies with Lt. Black. An enforcement “blitz,” in which officers increase patrols and vigilance in the target area, is being started, Lt. Black said.

        Among other ideas officials are considering:

        • Rumble strips along the edges of the road.

        • Warning signs.

        • Creating a hill or a dip in the 60-foot-wide grassy median.

        On Wednesday, two lawmakers whose territory includes the troubled area — Ohio Reps. Gary Cates, R-West Chester Township, and Tom Raga, R-Deerfield Township — met with ODOT Director Gordon Proctor.

        “To have 10 deaths in that short a time is more than a streak of bad luck,” Mr. Cates said. “This has become a death alley out there.”

        Mr. Proctor convinced him that concrete barriers are probably not the way to go, Mr. Cates said.

        Although a barrier would stop vehicles from crossing into oncoming traffic, “it could kick you back into traffic” and cause multi-car pileups, agreed Jay Hamilton, traffic planning engineer for ODOT's District 8 Office in Lebanon.

        Rumble strips are a more likely first step, according to the lawmakers. Also, ODOT will dispatch a team to check the quality of the pavement there.

        “They're as concerned about this as we are,” Mr. Cates said. “The traffic count is only increasing in that stretch.”

        Mr. Hamilton noted that there were no fatalities at all on the road during 1998, 1999 and the first 10 months of 2000.

       Cindi Andrews contributed to this report.


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