Thursday, August 22, 2002

Deaths pile up along I-75 in N.Ky.




By Stephenie Steitzer, ssteitzer@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A 27-mile stretch of Interstate 75 in Northern Kentucky has claimed 13 lives since 2001, putting it among the ranks of other dangerous stretches nearby, including I-75 north of Cincinnati and Interstate 65 in Bowling Green, Ky.

        Nine fatal crashes have occurred on the stretch between Florence and Williamstown since January. About 200 other accidents with injuries happened in the same period along this stretch.

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        That's comparable to a 12-mile span in Butler and Warren counties in Ohio where at least 13 people have been killed in 10 wrecks since November 2000. Or, to a 30-mile stretch near Bowling Green where 13 people were killed in 2000 alone.

        “They seem to just be areas that experience these accidents recently,” said Bob Hill, a planning engineer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

        The most recent fatal accident on I-75 in Kentucky happened a month ago when a Chevrolet Trailblazer overturned several times near the Williamstown exit. The driver, 58-year-old Barbara Frey from Macy, Ind., was pronounced dead at the scene.

Accident cluster theories

        Theories on why so many fatal crashes have occurred in the past year and a half are abundant, from just plain speeding to the nature of the stretch of road not far from urban Cincinnati and Lexington.

        “Certainly there are studies that show when you leave urban areas and enter into more rural areas, driver attention wanes,” Mr. Hill said.

        I-75, which stretches from the Canadian border to southern Florida, is the busiest truck route in North America. It is also heavily traveled by vacationers.

        A Michigan couple and two of their children were killed in February a mile north of Dry Ridge as they were returning home late at night after a vacation in Florida. The father, Michael McKennett, drove the family's minivan into a semi, which had stopped because the interstate was closed for an earlier accident.

        “Given the time of night, maybe he was on the sleepy side and just didn't realize that the traffic in front of him was completely stopped,” Grant County Coroner Marylee Willoby said at the scene.

Breaking down the numbers

        Data from the Kentucky State Police show a slight majority of the accidents on the Williamsburg-Florence stretch involves drivers from other states or areas outside Northern Kentucky.

        Of 516 total people involved in crashes along the stretch between January and July this year, 183 were out-of-state residents, 140 were Boone or Grant county residents, 178 were from other Kentucky counties and 15 were from unstated locations.

        The data also show that a majority of the fatal crashes — five of nine — this year and last year involved commercial vehicles, which in many cases were tractor-trailers.

        In addition to the February accident involving a semi, a Covington woman, her daughter and grandson were killed in June when a tractor-trailer crossed a median after the trucker choked on coffee.

Median crossing addressed

        Like many of the I-75 accidents north of Cincinnati, crossing the median has played a role in many of the Kentucky accidents. State highway data do not indicate exactly how many crashes in which it has been a factor.

        That won't be a problem in the future, however, since the state Transportation Cabinet is working to widen the highway to three lanes on each side and add dividers to eliminate crossovers. The cabinet has been working this summer to widen the highway in the Dry Ridge/Crittenden area.

        “We need that barrier wall to prevent against head-on collisions,” Mr. Hall said.

        Of all the theories offered by police and highway officials, truckers who travel the road often say the culprit is just plain speed.

        “People travel too fast and they underestimate the hills,” trucker Mike Gilley of Corbin said at a truck stop at the Walton-Verona exit.

        Mr. Gilley, 42, said that compared to other highways he has traveled, the Northern Kentucky portion of I-75 is just a little more dangerous.

        But Grant County Deputy Sheriff Chuck Dills doesn't think speeding is a major factor in the fatal accidents.

       



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