Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Alcohol called factor in fatal crash

1 died, 9 injured; but I-75 cables may have saved others

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

MONROE - Authorities say alcohol was a factor in a weekend crash that killed a Mason man and injured nine others. But authorities also say recently installed cable barriers possibly prevented more deaths in the three-vehicle pileup on Interstate 75.

Timothy C. Strait, 25, of Liberty Township, was charged Monday with aggravated vehicular homicide, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, failure to control and failure to wear a seat belt. He is scheduled to appear Wednesday in Butler County Area II Court, Hamilton.

His Ohio driving record shows three previous convictions, all in Mason Municipal Court: a 1995 DUI , a 2000 reckless operation and a 2002 improper turn.

Just before 3 a.m. Sunday, Strait was driving a 1992 Mazda MX-3 that went out of control on I-75 near the Monroe rest area. The Mazda struck the barriers, flipped and slid on the rain-slicked roadway back into the northbound lanes, causing two other vehicles to crash, said Sgt. Bob Potter of the Ohio State Highway Patrol's Hamilton post.

Monroe and Liberty Township emergency crews took Strait and eight others for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries at Middletown Regional Hospital; Strait's passenger, Chad Geiger, 25, of Mason, was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy Monday showed Geiger died from a crushed chest, the Butler County Coroner's Office said. Shorten & Ryan Funeral Home, Mason, is handling arrangements.

Potter said cable barriers, installed this year after a series of deadly median-crossover crashes, performed as expected. "They held the car back from going across the median. ... It definitely could have been worse if the cable barriers hadn't been there," he said.

If Strait's Mazda had crossed into oncoming, southbound traffic, "We definitely could have had more of a tragedy," Potter said.

In an unrelated I-75 traffic fatality Sunday evening, a pedestrian was killed when he tried to cross the northbound lanes at Ohio 123 in Franklin, said Trooper Kevin Bryant of the Patrol's Lebanon post.

Russell Braden, 60, of Dayton, Ohio, was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after 6 p.m. He had just been cited by a trooper for driving under suspension; the trooper had dropped him off at a restaurant to call for a ride minutes before he was struck by a 1998 Dodge Neon, Bryant said.

The fatality remains under investigation, but Bryant said he didn't expect any charges against the Neon's driver, Jeffrey Pierce, 42, of Grove City, Ohio.

E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com

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