Death toll rises in 2012 from area car wrecks
Posted: December 29, 2012
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — The number of traffic fatalities in the region has increased, but it’s not all bad news.
Police reported 17 deaths from car crashes this year in Winchester and Frederick and Clarke counties — one more than in 2011.
To date, Frederick County has had 12 fatal accidents, one more than a year ago, and 15 deaths stemming from those crashes — matching 2011’s total. Two of those victims were pedestrians.
Winchester had one fatality stemming from a two-car crash and a pedestrian was killed in Clarke County after being struck by a tractor-trailer.
In Frederick County, Deputy Warren Gosnell — supervisor of the county Sheriff’s Office Traffic Division — said the number of crashes this year has declined by nearly 20 percent.
Officials reported 1,126 wrecks in the county last year, compared to 912 so far this year.
Gosnell added that, excluding the two pedestrian deaths, the number of fatal crashes was also down.
“We are higher than average [compared to other jurisdictions] in some categories, but fatalities is not one of them,” he said Friday.
Gosnell said he can’t pinpoint any trends regarding fatalities this year, but in many of the crashes, he was surprised that someone was killed.
He added that the county also has had more double fatalities during the year.
The highest number of fatal crashes recorded in a single year in Frederick County in the last 10 years before 2011 was 14 — in 2002 and 2004.
Thirteen deaths occurred in 2003 and 2005, according to figures from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.
In 2010, 10 people were killed on county roads. The 10-year low occurred in 2008, when eight fatalities were reported.
Gosnell said many of the fatalities the Sheriff’s Office investigates are speed-related. “We see people that aren’t slowing down.”
Unlike in years past, he did not see a correlation between fatalities and seat-belt use in the county.
“Frederick County has one of the highest percentages of seat- belt usage in the state,” he said.
Clarke County Sheriff Tony Roper was not ready to celebrate, despite having “only” one fatality.
“Certainly, one year does not a trend make,” he said. “I’m still very concerned about the number of accidents.”
In 2011, one fatality was also reported, according to data from the Sheriff’s Office.
Roper said that any time the number of fatalities is low, it is a good thing, but cautioned drivers that inattention and crashes are still a problem.
“I see more and more incidents of people texting,” he added.
Gosnell also said texting while driving is becoming more of a concern in Frederick County.
“It’s coming to that, to where [texting while driving is] going to be a leading cause of these wrecks,” he said. “If people were completely honest, I think you’ll find that texting has surpassed impairment for cause.”
Texting while driving is now a secondary offense — meaning that a driver cannot be stopped for that offense alone.
Gosnell believes making it a primary offense would help to combat the problem.
In regard to wrecks involving cell phones, he said his department has cracked down.
“We’re to the point now where, yeah, we’ll go get a search warrant and check your cell phone,” he said, adding that even deleted data are retrievable now.
Recently, a search warrant was filed by Virginia State Police following an October Frederick County crash October that killed two people on Interstate 81 — in which texting while driving was suspected.
That investigation is still under way.
Winchester saw its first fatality in nearly three years on July 12.
The one previous to that occurred on Dec. 14, 2009, when former Frederick County deputy Ricky F. Brill, 45, and his daughter Kaitlyn Nicole Brill, 11, were killed after their car collided with a county school bus.
“It’s typically a one-in-every-couple-of-years [event],” city police Lt. Amanda Ritter said.
In regard to the lower number of fatalities in the city, compared with the county, she cited the smaller land area and lower speed limits.
Still, Ritter said, drivers should always be alert and cautioned everyone to wear seat belts, pay attention to posted speed limits and leave enough distance between their vehicle and the one in front of them.
Gosnell said he believes the three major causes of crashes in Frederick County are impairment, distraction and aggression.
“Take the distraction out of the cockpit,” he said. “Turn off your cell phone or put it in a highly visible spot [such as on the dashboard], but don’t have any interaction with it.”
He added that county officials are doing everything they can to combat problems and prevent crashes.
Part of each traffic unit’s day, he said, is spent at one or more “problem areas” — not only to police, but also to keep a visible presence.
“We are also more proactive in busier areas,” he said.
He added deputies work with county schools and driver’s education classes to teach students about safe driving.
Gosnell said he doesn’t know if anyone has a solution for reducing traffic fatalities.
“What we can do to help for the best chance to see [the numbers] go down is: seat belt is one, slow down is two,” he said.
“Do away with the distractions, calm down ... and know your limitations.”
— Contact Melissa Boughton at firstname.lastname@example.org