Year racking up as most deadly for Interior road deaths

Posted: Sunday, July 23, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The most treacherous months are still ahead, but 2000 is already an especially deadly year for motorists tackling Interior roadways.

So far this year, 12 people have died on Interior roads, equaling the total for all of 1999, according to Alaska State Troopers. And it could get worse, if a pattern of recent years continues.

The last two years, August and September have produced the highest number of fatalities on Interior roads, said Lt. Greg Tanner, head of Fairbanks' patrol unit.

June and July have been particularly deadly months for Interior drivers this year. There were 10 fatalities in 45 days, including a three-car collision July 3 that killed six people near Mile 22 of Chena Hot Springs Road. In that crash, a Nissan pickup crossed the center line, sideswiped a Ford truck towing a trailer with four-wheelers and then slammed head on into a GMC Sierra truck.

All four people in the Nissan and the driver and front passenger of the Sierra were killed. The two backseat passengers were hospitalized and are still recovering. The driver and passengers in the Ford escaped injuries.

Troopers said it's the worst accident they've seen in the Interior in two decades.

''I've never heard of a six-person fatality in one accident,'' said Tanner, a 19-year veteran. ''Of course that dramatically increased the numbers.''

Of the 12 people killed in the Interior this year, Tanner said eight weren't wearing seat belts.

As a result, troopers have been stepping up their patrols on several high-traffic areas around the Interior. This last weekend troopers ''blitzed'' the Chena Hot Springs Road, Tanner said.

But the increased enforcement isn't just because of the high number of fatalities in the last two months, Tanner said. Troopers received a federal grant earlier this year to pay overtime for more patrols.

The Innovative 157 Seat Belt Enforcement Grant has allocated money to state troopers for the sole purpose of seat belt enforcement, said First Sgt. Lee Farmer in division operations in Anchorage. This money is used to pay troopers overtime to make traffic stops and check for seat belt compliance.

According to Farmer, the initial grant was for $495,400, with $155,000 to be split up between the five detachments based on population density. The grant is also paying for city police departments, a University of Alaska Anchorage seat belt survey plus printed and visual education material, Farmer said.

Farmer said he's seen seat belt citations by troopers jump by more than 40 percent from last year. He credits the program, which started March 1.

Farmer said the increase is primarily because ''we're stepping up traffic enforcement.''

Alaska has a secondary seat belt law which means troopers cannot stop people for a seat belt violation unless a child is not proper restrained.

''We have to have something else to stop someone to check for a seat belt,'' Tanner said. ''It has to be a good stop, whether it's for failure to signal a lane change, speeding or whatever. Then if the person is not wearing a seat belt, the trooper has the option to cite the driver.''

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