By MARGIE WUEBKER
The year 2003 proved to be a deadly one on Mercer County highways,
as authorities investigated eight traffic fatalities. This represents
a significant increase from the two deaths recorded in 2002.
Auglaize County recorded three during the same period, a dramatic
decrease from the 11 law enforcement investigated the previous
Records from the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office and the
Wapakoneta post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol indicate the
leading causes to be failure to yield, a combination of following
too closely, speeding and failure to control, and driver inattention.
Only one death — that of a 24-year-old Celina man —
listed alcohol as a factor. The Mercer County accident occurred
Aug. 8 on U.S. 127, south of Celina.
The year was just 15 days old when Mercer County recorded its
first fatality — 6-year-old Adam Harner — in a single-vehicle
accident along Mercer Road near his Mendon-area home. The second,
just 11 days later, resulted in the death of 82-year-old Marcella
S. “Sally” Eifert near her Fort Recovery-area home.
Both accidents were weather-related, according to Sheriff Jeff
Grey. The first occurred on a snow-covered roadway and the other
in the midst of what he described as a “whiteout.”
Three accidents were caused by failure to stop or failure to
yield at stop signs. The remaining two involved vehicles leaving
the road and overturning or striking a tree.
Vehicles involved in the accidents included cars, pickup trucks,
a van, a tanker truck and a motorcycle.
Kimberly A. Cariello, 43, of Wapakoneta, became Auglaize County’s
first traffic fatality May 13 when the motorcycle on which she
was riding struck the rear of a car near Moulton.
The second fatal accident occurred July 7 when a car driven
by Janet Sink, 49, of Wapakoneta, drifted left of center for
an unknown reason and struck an oncoming vehicle.
Faulty pickup truck brakes have been ruled the contributing
cause in an Oct. 24 accident near Waynesville, according to
post commander Lt. Dan Lay. Twelve-year-old Emily VanHorn was
struck and killed by the vehicle as she stepped off a bus in
front of her home.
“In 2002, both fatalities involved drivers who had been
drinking,” Grey said. “We cracked down on drinking
and driving to a point where folks know they aren’t going
to get a break if they choose to drink and then climb behind
the steering wheel. In 2003, we seemed to have more drivers
running stop signs. People have to learn a stop sign means stop
and then look both ways before proceeding.”
The sheriff added that side impact crashes, like those occurring
at intersections, carry a 50 percent chance of a driver or passenger
being killed, particularly if the point of impact is at a door.
Throw speed into the mix and the results can be even more disastrous.
Short of stationing cruisers at dangerous intersections and
issuing citations to offenders, there is little law enforcement
can do other than warn the public about the dangers associated
with “blowing” stop signs or “rolling”
stops. Grey plans to speak with the patrol post commander about
working together on failure to stop/failure to yield violations
in hopes of preventing serious accidents.
“I have a map here in my office that keeps track of fatal
accidents in Mercer and Auglaize counties all the way back to
1999,” Lay of the Wapakoneta post said. “Every year
we try to focus on areas where the most accidents occur. In
2002 and 2003, the focus was southwestern Auglaize County.”
Troopers have seen a marked decrease in the incidence of alcohol-related
deaths and driving under the influence offenses. This year’s
focus will be on drivers and passengers who refuse to use seatbelts.
“We will be stopping as many violators as possible during
the coming months,” Lay added. “The theory is the
more people we make contact with the bigger the impact.”
However, troopers will continue to focus on other priorities
like impaired driving, speeding and other traffic offenses in
hopes of preventing accidents as well as loss of life.