Tuesday, December 31st, 2013
By Shelley Grieshop
Fatal crashes studied for safety improvements
  CELINA - The intersection of state Routes 118 and 29 may net safety upgrades as officials study the 17 traffic deaths this year on Grand Lake area roads.
The junction is the only location in Mercer and Auglaize counties in 2013 where more than one fatal accident occurred. Crashes in late June and mid-November took the lives of 36-year-old Michelle Bruns of Maria Stein and Ronald Albers, 56, of Portland, Ind.
"We're looking on sign improvements and talking about (placing) rumble strips on the road," said Lt. Scott Carrico, commander of the Wapakoneta post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. "We may give the intersection some additional enforcement to help reduce stop sign and speeding violations."
The OSHP and Mercer County Sheriff's Office are discussing with the Ohio Department of Transportation possible safety improvements but specific plans have not been announced. Following the crash in November, ODOT began collecting data to see what safety measures could be taken.
ODOT had upgraded all the traffic signs at the site and installed new intersection warning signs since 2012.
From 2008 to 2013 there were eight serious or fatal crashes where the two state routes meet north of Burkettsville-St. Henry Road, ODOT noted.
Captain Martin Emerine of the sheriff's office said both fatal crashes this year were caused when southbound vehicles failed to stop.    
"In the Bruns accident, there was no indication she had attempted to slow down," he said.
Mercer County recorded seven fatal crashes in 2013 which resulted in the deaths of seven people ages 25 to 85. The county investigated 16 traffic deaths last year.
One of the deaths this year occurred on Havemann Road when pedestrian Timothy J. Chrisman, 54, of Celina, was struck by a pickup truck April 6. He died three days later.
Two of the victims died several weeks after the accidents occurred: Judith Snider, 67, of Greenville, died Aug. 31 following a crash Aug. 11 at U.S. 127 and Kremer-Hoying Road; and Lewis E. Schultz, 85, of Portland, Ind., died 17 days after an accident Sept. 17 at state Routes 49 and 219.
Three Mercer County traffic fatalities were blamed on drivers who failed to yield; only one crash was alcohol-related. When seat belts were available, four drivers obliged, two did not.
Troopers with the OSHP this year investigated 10 deaths in eight crashes in Auglaize County, compared with seven traffic deaths in 2012. Two were alcohol-related; 12 of the drivers wore seat belts when available and four were unbuckled.
One of the traffic victims was a pedestrian and another a motorcyclist who was not wearing a helmet, Carrico said. The causes of the crashes were diverse: driving left of center, traveling off the roadway, failure to yield and failure to maintain an assured clear distance ahead.
One of the most unusual accidents involved a 39-year-old Lima man who was killed when the bed of a dump truck he was driving on Interstate 75 near Wapakoneta began to rise and struck the overpass at Bellefontaine Street. John R. Austin was pronounced dead at the scene.
Carrico admitted it's difficult to create a safety prevention strategy for the future when a specific pattern does not exist. His efforts in 2014 include a focus on seat belt usage and stopping impaired drivers, including those under the influence of drugs, he said.
"Drugs are a big problem any time of the day with people of all ages," he said.
People drive under the influence of prescription drugs - either intentionally or accidentally - more frequently than most people realize, Carrico said.
"Any given time you don't know when you're going to run into a driver under the influence," he said, adding motorists must stay alert and learn to drive defensively.
Additional online stories for this date
Print edition only stories for this date
• Grand Lake area 2013 year in review
• Plan to aid trailer park residents underway
• St. Marys council grants dispatchers raises in new three-year contract
• Celina police seek burglary suspects
• Coldwater council reviews positive year
• St. Henry council gives most village workers raises
• St. Marys wins first game of the season
• State titles highlight the best of 2013
• Marion Local football to be honored
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