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Published: Wednesday, 4/7/2004

Monroe area sees spate of traffic deaths

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - The weekend traffic deaths of a Carleton woman and a LaSalle youth brought to eight the number of such fatalities in Monroe County this year - up from one traffic death at this time last year.

Authorities said they do not view the number of traffic fatalities so early in the year as alarming but are concerned that three of the deaths involved youths.

"Three kids under 18 is pretty much not the norm around here," said Sgt. Frank Atkinson of the county sheriff's traffic division.

On Jan. 23, Bedford High School students Vanessa Pirrone, 17, and Ryan Wolniewicz, 16, were killed after the car Miss Pirrone was driving collided

with a pickup on snow-covered Sterns Road.

An accident Friday afternoon claimed the life of 15-year-old Francis Duvall of LaSalle. Francis's sister, Amanda Duvall, 21, was westbound on West Albain Road when she lost control of her car and struck a utility pole.

In other accidents:

● Shawn Nolan, 34, of Monroe, died Feb. 1 after he drove his car into the path of an Indiana & Ohio Central Railroad Co. train on Dixon Road in Raisinville Township.

● Julius Fabian, 82, of Ida Township, was killed Feb. 27 after he went through a stop sign at Lewis Avenue and Rauch Road at the Bedford/Ida Township line and his pickup collided with another vehicle.

● Francisco Villamil-Cruz, 34, of Monroe, died March 9 after his pickup went left of center on Telegraph Road and collided with a tractor-trailer.

● Matthew Fletcher, 36, of LaSalle Township was killed March 13 after he lost control of his vehicle, which was traveling at least 100 mph, and struck a guardrail on I-75 in Erie Township.

● Jennifer Conn, 32, of Carleton, died early Saturday after her SUV struck a utility pole in Ash Township and burst into flames.

Two of the accidents - those involving Ms. Conn and Mr. Fletcher - were alcohol-related, authorities said.

Trooper Timothy Sproull of the Michigan State Police's Monroe post, who investigated the accident involving Mr. Fabian, said he hasn't seen an unusual pattern in recent fatal accidents that would call for a specific response from authorities.

"Most fatal accidents involve some type of driver error. There's no way to predict that," he said.

Sergeant Atkinson agreed.

"Preventing all fatal accidents is like trying to prevent all homicides. It's pretty much impossible, " he said. However, "When [we] do find a pattern that calls for enforcement in a particular area, then obviously we do that," he said.

In five of the six fatal accidents handled by sheriff's deputies, the victims wore seat belts, according to Sergeant Atkinson. The sixth -the Conn accident - has yet to be determined.

"There's no 100 percent guarantee that a seat belt or air bag will save your life, " he said. "But it certainly increases your chances."

Sergeant Atkinson said every year there appears to be an unusual number of specific accident types.

"A couple of years ago, we had a lot of car-pedestrian [fatalities]. A few years back, it was car-train."

Although the eight fatalities seem like a lot, Sergeant Atkinson said every year is different. Last year, after having one in the first three months of the year, the county had 27 in the last nine months, he said.

Meanwhile, in 2002, seven occurred by Feb. 17 but only 16 the rest of the year.

"We usually end up with between 25 and 35 a year, " Sergeant Atkinson said. "Our busiest time seems to be when the weather is nice, from late March until October."

Contact George J. Tanber at:

gtanber@theblade.com

or 734-241-3610.



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