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Fire chief says number of accidents has risen 30 percent

September 09, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Ron Jeter has seen a lot of accidents in his years with the Smithsburg Volunteer Fire Co. Now chief, Jeter said he is concerned about an appreciable rise in the number and severity of wrecks lately.

The number of accidents is up about 30 percent so far this year, Jeter said. And the time spent on those calls is about double because of severity, time for cleanup, waiting for helicopters and investigation.

Since May, Jeter said his company has responded to wrecks with two fatalities, three serious injuries, five moderately serious injuries and eight minor injuries.

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"People are driving too fast, too close and too distracted," Jeter said. Add to that a steady increase in the number of drivers on the road and Jeter's fears are mounting right along with the accident tally.

Smithsburg Emergency Medical Services crews are also seeing an increase, according to EMT James Ulrich.

"In all of 2001, we had 779 calls," Ulrich said. "We're projecting 950 calls for 2002."

Cell phone use, eating fast food, tuning radios and gawking around at the scenery have become a deadly mix of factors in too many cases, Jeter said.

"Even our police aren't immune, with several being victims themselves just recently," Jeter said.

Last week, Maryland State Police Trooper 1st Class Doug Bittinger was hit by the mirror on a passing vehicle while he was on duty at a traffic stop. Uninjured, he pursued the vehicle that hit him and stopped it, police said.

Sgt. Louis Mastiano, also a state policeman, was in his cruiser at the scene of an incident a few weeks ago when he was hit from behind.

And Trooper 1st Class Charles Stanford, also a member of the Smithsburg Volunteer Fire Co., said he too was clipped not long ago while on duty.

"I've been a trooper for 16 years and I have noticed that drivers are much more aggressive than they used to be," Stanford said.

He sees a lot of people behind the wheel who feel they have to be first, not wanting another car beat them. It's not age-specific, he said, with such drivers ranging from 16 to 82 years old.

"Everybody is in a hurry to get somewhere," Stanford said. "I've even had motorists who asked me to hurry up while I was writing their ticket because they had to get somewhere."

Armed with overtime funds from the Washington County Health Department, state police are targeting aggressive drivers and following school buses before and after school, Stanford said.

Recently Stanford was investigating an accident and he put out flares to warn motorists not to drive too near the accident scene.

"I could see a driver pulling a U-Haul trailer in my mirror coming from behind me and he just kept coming and coming until he ran right over my flares," Stanford said.

When the driver told Stanford he was unable to merge with traffic, he was asked why he didn't just stop.

"Apparently that just didn't occur to him," Stanford said.

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