Committee reviews factors that played roles in fatal crashes

Several suggestions for improvements and collaborative efforts among agencies arose from the first meeting of the Washington-Morgan Fatal Crash Review Committee.

Tasked with pinpointing what, if anything, could have prevented the 11 fatal crashes occurring in the two counties in 2013, the committee met for the first time in late December at the Washington County Emergency Operations Center.

“Last year in Washington and Morgan counties we had an unusually high number of fatal crashes which were all very preventable. The idea behind the committee is to provide a better quality of life for people who live and travel in the counties,” said committee organizer, Lt. Carlos Smith of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

The meeting relied on the combined input of multiple agencies to take a more exhaustive look at crash factors, said Smith.

In addition to the OSHP, represented organizations included the Washington and Morgan County sheriff’s offices, the Ohio Department of Transportation, the Washington County Engineer’s Office, the Washington County Prosecutor’s Office, the Washington County Health Department, the Marietta Fire Department, Marietta Memorial Hospital and Car Teens.

The committee took approximately five hours to meticulously go over the details of each of the 11 crashes and resulting 12 deaths. Factors including vehicle model and condition, weather, road conditions, signage, speed, driver impairment and more were discussed, said Smith.

The review was a good way to get a new perspective on everyday safety issues, said Washington County Engineer Roger Wright, a member of the committee.

“If there’s a fatality on a county road, we always try to get a fatality report,” he said. “So many times I don’t get the law enforcement perspective. Getting that perspective helps me make a better decision as an engineer as to what we could differently.”

One fatality-a Nov. 11 crash where alcohol was involved-occurred on a county road. As a result of the committee, the county will be looking at putting some additional signage on County Road 56 to alert drivers as to how curvy it is, said Wright.

The Washington County Health Department will be getting more involved in crash response as a result of the meeting, said committee member Rabia Karim, coordinator of the county health department’s Creating Healthy Communities program.

“The health department has the ability to look up insurance information instantly and see if anyone involved in the crash had Medicare,” said Karim.

The collaboration will save time and effort in communicating with insurance agencies and should make crash investigations more efficient, she added.

Shared technology was another result of the meeting, said David Rose, ODOT public information officer. “We’ve shared some tools that ODOT has access to with local law enforcement.” ODOT uses a 3-dimensional road mapping tool called PathWeb that can instantly be accessed from departmental computers to look at state highways.

Two ODOT engineers attended the review committee and decided that local law enforcement could also benefit from the technology. Now local law enforcement agencies can access it, said Rose.

As always, area agencies are looking to provide more enforcement in the areas most susceptible to traffic accidents.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office started increasing its traffic enforcement in December through a grant from the Department of Public Safety.

“We’re out there enforcing seat belts and speed with the hopes that more enforcement will have some impact on safety,” said Washington County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Mark Warden, who also serves on the committee.

The committee will meet quarterly moving forward and analyze both fatal crashes and those resulting in serious injury, said Smith.

The committee will likely next meet in March, he said.