ELYRIA — Every death occurring from a traffic crash is horrific and tragic, but there is always one crash during the year that leaves its mark in the minds of law enforcement and rescue workers and the community.
For the troopers of the Elyria post of the Ohio Highway Patrol in 2012, that crash took place just after midnight June 3 when a Chevrolet Cavalier carrying four Brunswick teens went airborne at speeds estimated at 63 mph over a Boston Road railroad crossing in Columbia Station. Four of the five teens in the car were killed.
“Each fatal accident impacts someone, but some have a bigger impact on the community than others,” Lt. Travis Hughes, the Elyria post’s commander, said. “That was one crash that sent shockwaves through the community.”
The deaths of the four teens were among 26 registered on Lorain County roads as of Friday, two more than the 24 who died in county crashes in both 2010 and 2011.
This year’s 26 fatalities are far fewer than those recorded annually over a period of years between 1986 and 1994, during which 40 or more deaths occurred four times, with the worst years being 1988 with 45 and 1987 with 44.
Despite the rise in fatalities during 2012, he said there were some noteworthy positives, including a decline in total accidents over the past two years from 1,852 in 2010 to 1,773 in 2011, to 2012’s 1,640 recorded accidents as of Friday.
“These are good signs,” Hughes said, citing continuing driver educational efforts by the Lorain County Safe Community Coalition, a program of the Lorain County General Health District, which works to maintain and increase a heightened awareness of the dangers of drunken driving and other potential problems for drivers.
Coalition efforts include the annual Zero-Proof Mix-Off at Lorain County Community College, which offers non-alcoholic drink recipes, as well as programs such as the Buckle Up Bowl, which sees high schools compete for top honors for the total number of students found wearing seatbelts.
Still, 13 of the fatal crashes were alcohol or drug-related, an increase of three over 2011 and 10 over 2010. DUI arrests in 2012 remained fairly steady at 970, compared with 998 in 2011, according to the patrol.
Another rising statistic is citations issued for failure to wear seatbelts, which rose markedly in the past few years, going from 1,563 in 2010 to 1,918 in 2011, to just more than 2,000 this year, according to patrol statistics.
“This is why we can’t let up when it comes to enforcement,” Hughes said. “The numbers are not falling off.”
This renewed effort to see that laws are enforced and violators caught and cited comes as the Elyria post lost two more troopers in 2012 to a promotion and another officer leaving law enforcement for other career opportunities.
The 12 troopers now working out of the post represents a drop of nine personnel since 2010.
“We were already doing more with less, and now we are doing even more,” Hughes said.
Total numbers of enforcement stops, those resulting in arrests and or citations being issued, stood at 6,562 at the end of November, which is nearly equal to the 6,567 in 2011.
“This speaks to how resilient our troopers are,” Hughes said.
The number of non-enforcement stops, primarily to assist drivers with flat tires, roadside emergencies or mechanical problems, stood at 10,219 through November, which was a drop-off from the roughly 11,500 made in 2011.
As has been the case for some years, the county’s most hazardous roads remained unchanged in 2012, with state Route 57 ranking first for number of accidents, followed by U.S. Route 20 and state Route 83.
In addition to making traffic stops for driving-related offenses, post troopers also devoted considerable time to criminal patrol, which saw state troopers partner with area police and other law enforcement agencies to identify and arrest suspects involved with drugs, counterfeiting, marketing of counterfeit merchandise and identity theft.
Those efforts netted 91 drug violation arrests in 2011, and 135 arrests through November this year, as well as 51 felony arrests this year, up from 32 in 2011.