Behind the curve: Ohio's killer corridors
ABOUT THE SERIES
The Blade obtained records through the Ohio Department of Transportation, merged with Ohio Department of Public Safety data, about traffic volume and vehicle accidents for each roughly two-mile segment of state or federal roadway in Ohio from 1999 through 2003.
From that data, The Blade computed crash rates for sections and corridors within those routes.
Under the criteria used by the state, only through-volume traffic on a particular highway is counted, not any cross-traffic. The state also tallies accidents occurring at an intersection of two roads in the bigger roadway’s totals.
To ensure that a low tally on short or low-volume routes didn’t dilute the findings, The Blade analysis for northwest Ohio studied only the top 25 busiest routes in the following counties: Defiance, Fulton, Hancock, Henry, Lucas, Ottawa, Paulding, Putnam, Sandusky, Seneca, Wood, and Williams.
Michigan could not provide similar data from which to study routes in southeast Michigan.
To show the dangerous stretches in northwest Ohio, the analysis:
- Divided the region’s top 25 busiest routes into corridors under 20 miles long by common traits, such as the number of lanes.
- Ended corridors at commonly known points, such as villages or other major roadways, though that wasn’t always possible because of limitations with supplied data.
- Considered only corridors at least five miles long, averaging 1 million vehicles per mile per year — the transportation industry standard. That produced 108 corridors for ranking.
The Blade’s methodology for ranking corridors followed that employed by many other states who study corridors in which the rates of serious injuries and fatalities are collectively measured. That’s because, unlike measuring along an entire route, on a corridor there’s often only a handful of fatalities per stretch, and serious-injury crashes help provide more context with which to rank small stretches of road.
For the three-day series, The Blade also analyzed a separate ODOT database on road volume, analyzed a separate federal database on fatal crashes, and interviewed more than 90 people, including families of victims, residents along dangerous roads, highway safety professionals, safety advocates, and police.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joe Mahr, 32, has been a reporter with The Blade since 2000. He has won statewide awards for coverage of Toledo’s 2001 mayoral race, northwest Ohio’s economic slide, and the record of U.S. Rep. Michael Oxley (R., Findlay). Earlier this year, he was one of three Blade reporters awarded the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for the 2003 series “Buried Secrets, Brutal Truths,” which uncovered a seven-month string of atrocities committed by the U.S. Army’s Tiger Force unit in Vietnam.
State's road safety system lags behind others, analysis shows: (11/14/04) Matt Seager awoke to whooshing rotors, whining engines, and demands he lay still. As the medical helicopter raced his battered body through the night sky to a Columbus hospital, the 17-year-old struggled to remember what had happened minutes earlier on Route 37. They became two more victims of a road that has amassed a deadly distinction unnoticed by the state: Route 37, which snakes from Findlay to the hills of southeast Ohio, has the highest fatality rate of any major Ohio route.
Effects of crashes continue to haunt victims, families: (11/14/04) Beyond the brief articles printed in the local newspaper, beyond the short-term detours around crash sites, the serious crashes along Route 37 continue to haunt a select group of those involved, or with loved ones who died or were injured. There are emotional struggles, financial struggles, and legal struggles. There are nightmares, new fears, and faded memories. There are doctors' appointments for some and funerals for others. Some endure both.
State Rt. 33 stretch has area's highest rate of fatalities: (11/14/04) Zachary Young lay in a hospital bed -- intravenous tubes stuck in his arms, a brace strapped to his neck, an oxygen tube strung to his nose, and his mother standing beside him to deliver devastating news. Two men were dead. Young knew it was his fault. The 23-year-old son of a retired sheriff's deputy had driven drunk the night before while ferrying four acquaintances to a bar. He ran a stop sign at State Rt. 53 in Ottawa County, and a pickup crumpled their car -- killing two of his passengers.
Small section of Rt. 2 beset by fatal wrecks: (11/16/04) After a day's worth of driving, long-haul trucker David Christensen pulled into a parking lot off State Rt. 2 late one Thursday in search of a peaceful night's sleep. He picked the wrong place to stop. Before daybreak on Aug. 18, 2000, a sport utility vehicle missed a turn on a sharp curve in Jerusalem Township and slammed into the semi cab where Mr. Christensen lay asleep. The SUV burst into flames as the startled trucker and a passerby tried to pull the unconscious SUV driver to safety. The South Dakota trucker escaped with a scratch on his forehead, but the SUV driver died on an 8.4-mile stretch of road that has the highest fatality rate of any major stretch in northwest Ohio, an analysis by The Blade found.
Rt. 2 crash leaves area couple with thoughts of lost dreams: (11/16/04) Sitting with her husband Dennis, Sandy Lewinski thinks of all that could have been during the retirement years. They could have cashed in a combined six decades in the work force for modest pensions and a motor home to travel the country. After all, she said as she looked over at her husband, Dennis was a good driver. "Yeah," Dennis responded in a strained voice as he glanced over his wheelchair, "I used to be an excellent driver. And see where it got me?" The 59-year-old is blind, barely able to walk, and suffers from permanent brain damage - all from one Saturday afternoon he still can't remember, when a car pulled out in front of his motorcycle on Route 2 just west of the Bono curve.
Oregon state effort serves as model for problem roads: (11/17/04) Working the cash register at T.J's carryout, Micci Ries watched the emotion drain from the face of a local firefighter as he talked about the latest crash on the "Highway of Death." Six people already had died on that notorious stretch of Oregon's Highway 18 in the past year. And now the dead included two teenage sisters -- and the fetus that one was carrying. So that weekend in January, 1999, the 49-year-old part-time cashier from tiny Sheridan, Ore., cried and pledged to devote her time to making the road safer.