Monday, May 21, 2007

Sudden death on the highway…so close to my home

These roadside memorials commemorate six deaths in four crashes that occurred very near my home. The first three memorials pictured stand on the side or median of a major 4-lane US highway within little more than a two-mile stretch. The last memorial is on a busy 2-lane state highway.

The one with the triple fatalities occurred on June 11, 1998. A 19-year-old University of Virginia student driving a Jeep Cherokee southbound in the right lane of the 4-lane highway was allegedly distracted by a bee that flew inside her vehicle. She swerved to the left just as a Chevy Monte Carlo was starting to pass her in the left lane.

Lois Deane, 49, driving the Monte Carlo, swerved to her left to avoid the Jeep, lost control in the median, rolled the car over and tumbled upside down into the oncoming lanes, where her car was hit by a Nissan Altima. Unfortunately, Lois had her granddaughters Renae and Cheyanne in the car, ages 10 and 4, who were completely unrestrained, ejected, and killed. Lois also was unbelted and killed. As I recall, there were two women in the Altima who were not seriously injured.

I saw photos of the Monte Carlo. The roof was crushed somewhat in the front, but the rear part of the roof was okay. There is no doubt in my mind that if the children had been properly restrained in the back seat, they would have survived, probably without serious injuries. I can't say for sure about Lois.

Ginger McCain, an employee of the University of Virginia School of Nursing, was killed on September 19, 2005. Her car was also southbound on this road and was nudged in the right rear by a Ford Focus that had edged out of an intersection from a stop sign. This occurred in heavy morning commuter traffic, and the Focus driver was probably trying to get moving into the fast-flowing traffic stream. Unfortunately, the Focus driver misjudged and Ginger’s Mitsubishi coupe was pushed off course so that her car went diagonally off the right side of the road at high speed directly into a large tree. I understand Ginger was wearing her seat belt, but the crash was too severe, and the car may not have had an airbag. However, her young daughter in a child seat in the rear was largely unharmed as I recall. Now, there is a traffic light at this intersection and a guardrail separates the roadway from the tree.

I do not know the circumstances behind Grace Kudro’s death, except that it occurred on September 19, 2006, exactly one year after that of Ginger McCain. The placement of the memorial suggests she was also southbound and went off the left edge of the highway and struck a tree in the median. She was only 23 years old and left behind two young daughters.

Travis Fitzgerald was 30 at the time of his death, which occurred on November 26, 2004, the day after Thanksgiving. He evidently died on a twisty two-lane road that carries a lot of commuter traffic. At night, deer can be commonly seen crossing the road, especially in the fall. The section on which he died has blind curves with advisory speeds of 35 mph, but hardly anyone slows down that much. The road itself until about a year ago had a posted speed limit of 55 mph (now 45 mph).

These were all tragic deaths. What can we learn from them? Always be alert, be cautious at busy intersections and blind curves, don’t swerve suddenly if you can help it, and above all, always wear your seat belts and make sure your child passengers are properly restrained.

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