Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Traffic deaths up in township

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WEST CHESTER TWP. - West Chester Township has been hard-hit with traffic fatalities so far in 2003.

Six people have died in four traffic crashes - more than any other Butler County community, according to the county Coroner's Office and the Greater Hamilton Safety Council.

West Chester normally sees one or two fatalities for an entire year, said Sgt. Barry Walker, supervisor of West Chester police's traffic-safety unit. While Walker acknowledges part of the increase could be because "this is a growing area," the bigger culprits are alcohol, drugs and speeding, he said. Three of the four fatal crashes involved motorists impaired with drugs or alcohol.

Increased patrols have led to a 35 percent increase in driving-under-the-influence citations. But Walker said a true fix can't come from police.

"I could put 100 policemen out there, but we need what we call, 'general deterrence,' the public looking out for their own safety," he said. That means two things: finding other transportation if you drink, and calling police if you see a motorist weaving or showing other signs of impairment.

One unusual crash - a triple fatality that wasn't alcohol-related - bumped West Chester's tally substantially.

The county numbers are up as well. Merrill Barrick, manager of the Greater Hamilton Safety Council, which tracks data for Butler County, said her 2003 year-to-date figures show 18 traffic deaths - a level not reached until Aug. 23 last year. In all of 2002, there were 26 traffic deaths.

In many fatal crashes, distracted driving appears to be a significant factor, she said.

"I just think people are just not paying attention to their driving," Barrick said. "I see them all the time, speeding, cutting in front of cars; people are in such a hurry, they're stressed out, they're talking on their cell phones."

West Chester fatal crashes in 2003

Feb. 18: Todd Stoops, 17, of Liberty Township, lost control of his vehicle on Union Centre Boulevard. He died four days later. Police say he tested positive for marijuana use.

May 30: Three people died after a crash on Ohio 747 near Rialto Road. All were passengers in a vehicle driven by Cosme Monjaras 25, of Hamilton. Monjaras pleaded no contest to three counts of vehicular manslaughterNo alcohol or drugs were involved, police said.

July 5: Sergei Maksimov, 22, of Loveland died after being ejected from a vehicle that struck a utility pole on Cincinnati-Dayton Road near Guard Street. He was a passenger in a vehicle driven by his roommate, Dmitri Ivanov. A police report says Ivanov had a blood-alcohol level of 0.278, more than three times Ohio's legal limit of 0.08.

July 13: Rhonda Merritt, 41, of Liberty Township, died early Sunday after her vehicle went off Tylersville Road near Lesourdsville-West Chester Road. Merritt, who was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.23, authorities said.

Sources: West Chester Township Police, Butler County Area III Court, Greater Hamilton Safety Council, Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles

---E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com

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