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01-02-03: Alcohol among causes of 2002 fatalities in Mercer, Auglaize
Mercer County records two deaths on roads and Auglaize County has 11 people killed

The Daily Standard
    A wide variety of circumstances including motorists driving under the influence was blamed for 13 deaths on Mercer and Auglaize county roadways in 2002.
    Auglaize County recorded the higher number of traffic fatalities as 11 people lost their lives on our local highways - five men, two women and four teen-agers. The average age of the victims was 38.
    Mercer County statistics were much lower.
    The Mercer County Sheriff's Office investigated two traffic fatalities - both involving adults who had been drinking and subsequently failed to yield the right of way - during 2002.
    This compares with six traffic fatalities in 2000. There was only one alcohol-related crash, which claimed the life of a 50-year-old Rockford man.
    Mercer County went more than nine months before recording its first fatality at 6:53 a.m. Sept. 14. Tresa Lichty, 32, of Defiance, died when she drove into the path of a pickup truck at the intersection of Ohio 119 and Burkettsville-St. Henry Road, near St. Henry.
    The second fatality occurred nine days later at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23 at the intersection of Union City and Mercer-Darke County Line roads, south of Fort Recovery. James D. Fisher. 30, of Portland, Ind., died afte  driving into the path of a pickup truck.
    Both of the crashes were the result of vehicles failing to yield, according to Commander Lt. Dan Lay of the Wapakoneta post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP).
    According to the Columbus headquarters of the OSHP, there were more traffic fatalities on rural roads in 2002 than the year before.
    Five people died on Ohio roads during the New Year's holiday period from Dec. 30 to Jan. 2 - three of the accidents were alcohol-related. Even though New Year's Eve has come and gone, troopers still expect some "last-minute partying" this weekend and will be out in full force, Lay warned.
    "We anticipate Friday to be a big drinking and driving night," he said. "We ask all motorists to please use a designated driver."
    In 2002, Lay said troopers focused on the southwest portion of Auglaize County in St. Marys, German, Washington and Noble townships, where a higher number of serious and fatal crashes occurred in the last five years.
    "Our goal every year is to look at a five-year average and try to decrease accidents in the areas where they most often occurred," Lay said.
    The statistics gathered by the OSP on crashes this year in both Mercer and Auglaize counties, show numerous factors that caused deaths on our local roadways. They are broken down as follows:
    - Failure to yield - 4
    - Failure to control - 3
    - Unsafe speed - 2
    - Driving left of center - 1
    - Pedestrian struck on the roadway - 1
    - Dune buggy overturned - 1
    Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey attributes the decrease in fatalities in Mercer County to a number of factors, including directed patrol with cruisers focusing on dangerous driving behavior in three districts - north, central and south. The focus has shifted from illegal behavior, such as parties with underage drinking, to keeping dangerous drivers off the road. While some people may not agree with the philosophy, the resulting numbers look promising, he said.
    "During a crackdown on underage drinking in 2000, we had 11 crashes involving underage drinking," Grey said. "We had just five while focusing on dangerous behavior for a 54 percent reduction."
    At the same time, the sheriff's office focused on DUI arrests involving all age groups, with a resulting 89 percent increase in the number of such arrests. The majority of the offenders were over the age of 21.
    Deputies arrested 106 motorists on alcohol-related charges as of Nov. 30. Four of those involved drivers under the age of 18 and 23 were in the 18 to 20 age group. The remaining 79 culprits were 21 and over.
    The arrest total by district were: Central (Jefferson, Butler, Washington and Liberty townships), 39; North (Jefferson East, Center, Union, Dublin, Blackcreek and Hopewell townships), 35; and South (Franklin, Marion, Granville, Gibson and Recovery), 32.
    "Impaired drivers are dangerous whether they are 18 or 50," Grey said. "Both fatalities in 2002 involved adult drivers who had been drinking. The other drivers in those crashes had not been drinking."
    While the sheriff does not condone underage drinking, he noted young people seem to be doing better with the designated driver philosophy than adults.
    "It is easier to deal with a child who comes home drinking than a child who didn't make it home due to drinking."
    Another contributing factor cited by the sheriff in regard to fewer fatalities is the increased usage of seat belts and child safety seats in the wake of statewide and national awareness campaigns. Motor vehicles also are safer these days thanks to equipment like anti-lock brakes and air bags.
    Another traffic fatality, not included in the local overall Ohio State Patrol statistics, occurred Aug. 8 within the village of Minster when a Piqua man drove his car through a red light and into a backhoe.
    Excluding the Minster accident, four of the fatal accidents in both counties were alcohol-related and at least six of the 10 people who had seat belts available to them, were not wearing them.
    Convincing motorists to wear seat belts and to refrain from drinking and driving will be the biggest focus this year as local police officers, sheriff's deputies and OSP troopers continue campaigns such as "What's Holding You Back?" and use state and federal funds to pay for overtime hours, he said.
    Currently, the Wapakoneta post has 17 troopers on staff and during holiday and special enforcement days, it is not unusual for five OSP cruisers to be patrolling both Mercer and Auglaize counties, Lay explained.
    "We don't just issue tickets, either. We help people whose vehicles have broken down, and of course, now we are focused on Homeland Security," he added.
    Lay said officers remain keenly aware that the roadways, especially the 12 miles of Interstate 75 patrolled by the local OSHP post, can potentially be a freeway for terrorists and/or terrorist activity.
    Lay said he doesn't like to preach, but he has a sincere message for motorists in the Grand Lake St. Marys area and across the state:
    "Please get in the habit of wearing a seat belt. I don't preach that cause I have to, I believe it saves lives. And if you drink, find an alternative way to get home, don't drive. If you're arrested, it's costly and embarrassing. We want you to enjoy your weekends."


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