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Published: Saturday, 8/3/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Nationwide traffic blitz ends with 2 fatal crashes

Crackdown targeted I-80 in 13 states

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Ohio Highway Patrol quadrupled troopers’ patrol time on the Ohio Turnpike’s middle 80 miles during an eight-day stretch that ended Wednesday night, but that didn’t prevent a fatal traffic crash practically within sight of the patrol post in charge of that section.

The wreck a week ago that killed Kimala K. Lowry, 53, of Norwalk was one of two fatalities on I-80 across the United States during the I-80 Cross Country Crackdown, a joint effort by 11 states’ public-safety departments to step up police visibility and enforcement in hopes of curbing deadly crashes.

The other occurred in Nebraska, and involved a police chief riding a motorcycle.

The crash that killed Ms. Lowry occurred on the turnpike’s eastbound side about 7 p.m. just west of the U.S. 250 interchange near the Milan patrol post. Troopers said the victim lost control of her car and it went down an embankment after striking a guardrail on its driver’s side.

Scott J. Dunn, 48, of Norwalk, a passenger, was treated for minor injuries. Both occupants wore seat belts, troopers said.

The crash occurred on the fourth day of the law-enforcement blitz along I-80 from coast to coast conducted between July 24 and 31 to publicize safe driving, target moving violations like speeding and drunken driving that are common factors in vehicular fatalities, and to hunt for smugglers.

Lt. Brett Gockstetter, the Milan post’s commander, said the crash remained under investigation Friday and the report probably would take several weeks to complete, pending results from toxicology tests.

The crash was one of 48 total crashes on I-80 in Ohio during the campaign, according to statistics the highway patrol released Friday.

During the eight-day blitz, troopers from patrol posts on and off the turnpike dedicated 2,641 man-hours to traffic enforcement on the toll road, wrote 1,719 tickets, issued 905 warnings, and arrested 18 people, eight of them for traffic-related offenses including drunken driving, and 10 for drug offenses.

Lt. Ann Ralston, a spokesman at patrol headquarters in Columbus, said the agency had no comparable statistics from the past because the I-80 crackdown was a first-time event.

But Lieutenant Gockstetter said that during the same period in 2012, Milan post troopers worked about 250 hours of patrol, while about 1,100 hours were assigned from that post during the I-80 campaign.

That there was so much law-enforcement muscle out on the road made the fatal crash even more frustrating, the post commander said.

“We obviously spent a great amount of resources to prevent that sort of thing from happening, but some things you just can't prevent,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate that someone lost their life,” Lieutenant Ralston said.

But it’s impossible to know what other crashes might have occurred if not for the stepped-up patrol presence, she continued, “and we hope that our efforts did have an impact.”

Rain Saturday evening had made the pavement wet in the Milan area, Lieutenant Gockstetter said, and that stretch near the U.S. 250 interchange is accident prone during such weather.

While there are no curves nearby, he said, sight distance is limited as the turnpike rises to cross a bridge over U.S. 250, and drivers “don't adjust their speed accordingly” when it rains.

“I guess we ruined it for the whole country,” the lieutenant said before being advised of the other I-80 fatality during the crackdown, which occurred in Nebraska.

The (Lincoln) Journal-Star said that crash July 25 involved a motorcyclist who crashed into a median wall after coming up on traffic slowed because of a previous accident. Motorcyclist Godfrey J. Brokenrope, 50, was the police chief in his hometown of Aurora, Neb., the newspaper reported.

The Iowa Department of Public Safety developed the multistate enforcement concept for I-80 and is gathering data from the other 10 states involved. The agency said after the event's conclusion that law-enforcement leaders realized eliminating all fatal crashes during the campaign was “an aggressive goal and would be extremely tough to achieve.”

“The overarching goal of the I-80 Challenge was to change driver behavior, increase seat belt usage, and eliminate impaired and drowsy drivers along our roadways,” the statement said.

“The I-80 Challenge was conducted with one imperative goal in mind: saving lives. The collaboration of law enforcement officers for this traffic safety campaign is admirable and should inspire future traffic safety initiatives aimed at saving lives on our nation's highways,” said Patrick Hoye, chief of the Iowa Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau.

Other participating states along I-80 were New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California.

Bradley Shaw, a highway patrol spokesman, said the arrests in Ohio included a felony drug case, a felony gun case, and eight minor-misdemeanor drug-possession cases, mostly for small amounts of marijuana.

A lone vehicle pursuit ended with two arrests, while six drivers were charged with operating while intoxicated.

Although the I-80 campaign was publicized as the first major interstate law-enforcement effort targeting a specific highway, Lieutenant Ralston said the highway patrol has teamed up with neighboring agencies on other cooperative enforcement, including an on-going project with the Indiana State Police that is specific to I-70.

The patrol also is part of the “Six-State Trooper Project,” involving Ohio’s neighboring states, which conducted drunken-driving checkpoints during the Fourth of July weekend and a more recent distracted-driving campaign.

Next month, Lieutenant Ralston said, the six states plan a focus on criminal interdiction.

“It’s really important that law-enforcement agencies work together,” she said. “We all have the same goals: to reduce crashes, save lives, and have safer communities.”

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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