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Traffic deaths up almost 40% in area

By TANYA EISERER / Staff Writer

Higher traffic speeds, failure to wear seatbelts, the consumption of alcohol, fatigue and a lack of attentiveness when driving a vehicle can be deadly.

The number of traffic fatalities in the Big Country's during October has reflected that fact. At least 15 people, including a 13-year-old Abilene boy who was ejected from a vehicle, lost their lives in fatal accidents.

And the number of accidents don't seem to be decreasing. Already in the month of November five people have died in wrecks. Four of those deaths happened near Putnam - just 1-1/2 miles apart - in Callahan County.

A one-vehicle accident Nov. 1 that killed two people was probably caused by a young driver who fell asleep at the wheel.

A second accident Wednesday killed two small children who were ejected from a station wagon in a three-vehicle accident. They were not wearing seatbelts.

Had the children been buckled in, they probably would have survived, said Texas Department of Public Safety Cp. Larry Hill.

"You're survival rate increases if you stay in the cabin area," he said.

Billy Harris, a Baird volunteer firefighter, said Callahan County has taken a pretty hard beating in the past week.

"FirstFlight's been out here four times since (last) Friday," Harris said. "Until we had that wreck Friday, we had not had our Jaws (of Life) rescue tools out since May 31. It's just our time."

ne of Abilene's worst accidents was in late September, when two Abilene Christian High School female students died in a one-car accident on Griffith Road. High speeds played a large part in the accident, officials said.

"That's the worst I've ever seen," said Abilene Police Officer Terry Monroe, a motorcycle traffic cop. "Seatbelts didn't do them any good."

But many of the area's accidents have been taking place out on the rural roads and highways of West Texas either late at night or early in the morning.

"That's probably because your speeds are greater in the rural areas," Hill said. "Every time your speed increases by 10 mph, you're momentum squares," making stopping that much more difficult.

Hill added that last year's rise in speed limits to 70 mph on many state roads is most likely a strong contributing factor in the increased fatalities.

Last year, in the months of August, September and October, there were 19 traffic deaths, according to Reporter-News newspaper accounts.

In the same period in 1996, there were 26 traffic fatalities - amounting to about a 37 percent increase in accident deaths, the accounts showed.

Hill couldn't point to any particular reason traffic deaths would be so high in October, but he noted that many of them involved one vehicle. At least nine of those 15 deaths in October were one-car wrecks.

In many of those accidents, the driver "just looks away from the road for a moment" and before they know it they've gone off the road, Hill said.

"If you're moving laterally, you don't have much time to play with."

Many accidents could be prevented if drivers had paid attention, Monroe said. "Driving is something you do every day, and people take it for granted," which can be a fatal mistake in judgment, Monroe said.

Here are the fatality accidents from October:

-- An elderly man and woman were killed Oct. 4 near Anson at the intersection of U.S. Highway 80 and Farm Road 600 when their car collided with a pickup pulling a camper.

-- A 40-year-old Coleman man died Oct. 6 when his Ford pickup was involved in a head-on collision with a tractor trailer on U.S. 84 about six miles north of Silver Valley. He was not wearing a seatbelt.

-- Three Roby residents were killed Oct. 7 in a two-car head-on collision four miles west of Roby on U.S. 180. The DPS believed alcohol was a factor.

-- A 21-year-old Irving man died Oct. 9 in a one-car rollover four miles west of Snyder when his vehicle left the roadway and struck the guardrail.

-- An 11-month-old infant was killed Oct. 10 in a single-vehicle rollover on County Road 333 when the vehicle her mother was learning to drive ran off the road and overturned.

-- A 73-year-old Coahoma man was driving his pickup down First Street in Coahoma Oct. 10 when he veered off the road and crashed into a building.

-- A 28-year-old Abilene man was killed Oct. 12 in a one-car accident on Highway 16 when his vehicle careened out of control, ejected him and landed on top of him. Arce was not wearing a seatbelt.

-- Three DeLeon residents were killed Oct. 19 in a one-car rollover on State Highway 16 five miles south of Interstate 20 and southeast of Ranger.

-- A 38-year-old Abilene man was killed in a one-vehicle rollover Oct. 22 fives south of Lawn on U.S. 84 when his van rolled over. Speed was a factor.

-- A 13-year-old Abilene boy was killed Oct. 16 in a one-vehicle accident when the van he was in went out of control and slammed into a light pole at the Interstate 20 exit ramp onto State Highway 277.


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