Impairment, excessive speed mostly to blame for 2012’s fatal crashes

Telegraph staffFebruary 8, 2013 

Waylon Hampton set off for Forsyth on a spring night last year atop his uncle’s Harley-Davidson.

The 41-year-old Georgia Power worker, who moonlighted driving a backhoe, had met friends at the Back Porch Lounge on Riverside Drive in Macon. He was riding alone.

A witness soon saw Hampton driving fast, weaving in and out of traffic on Interstate 75 when he lost control. He crashed into the median about halfway between the exits for Arkright Road and Riverside Drive.

He died before emergency workers arrived.

Hampton was one of 36 people killed in traffic crashes in Bibb and Houston counties in 2012.

Nineteen people were killed in Macon and Bibb County crashes. In Houston County, 17 people were killed in 16 wrecks.

The crashes were spread across the county. No single stretch of road claimed more than one life.

Alcohol or drugs was a factor in eight of the Bibb County crashes and three in Houston County, according to law enforcement statistics.

Most of the fatal crashes were caused by impaired drivers, driver error or excessive speed.

Drivers simply need to pay more attention to the road when they’re behind the wheel, Houston County sheriff’s Lt. M.J. Stokes said.

“Driving needs to be the primary focus when driving -- not putting on makeup, not eating, not texting, not thinking about what to pick up at the grocery store,” he said.

Two motorists were killed -- one in Bibb County and another in Houston County -- after leading state troopers on chases that resulted in pit maneuver crashes.

Six people were charged with vehicular homicide or other traffic offenses in connection with last year’s crashes in Houston County.

One Macon crash could result in criminal charges. The case is still under investigation.

The majority of crashes in Macon and Bibb County involved just one vehicle.

In Hampton’s case, speed was the killer. Because Hampton was riding a motorcycle, it’s difficult to say how fast he was traveling, Bibb County sheriff’s Capt. Charlie Gunnels said.

What’s clear is that he was going faster than 65 mph when he left the road and struck a high tension wire in the median, Gunnels said.

That night wasn’t Hampton’s first rush of high speed adrenaline, said his aunt, Glenda Williams.

“He drove a motorcycle to the limit, just as fast as it would go,” she said.

Friends placed a memorial in the median to mark the spot where Hampton died.

A motorcycle tire is balanced on a metal cross. Half a dozen bandannas are tied to the tire.

Williams said it’s still difficult to drive along that stretch of road.

Hampton always said that if he had to die, he wanted it to be on a motorcycle, she said. “He went the way he wanted to go.”

Pedestrian deaths

Jose Bravo was on his way to church the day after Thanksgiving when his hat blew out of the car.

The 15-year-old stepped onto Hawkinsville Road to retrieve it.

A Mercury sedan driven by an Ohio man tried to brake and swerve, but it struck Bravo, according to an accident report.

Contacted this week, his mother said her family is still grieving Jose’s death. It’s still painful.

The teenager was one of the four pedestrians killed in Bibb County crashes last year. Houston County had three pedestrian deaths, including two in Warner Robins.

In Macon, the pedestrians killed were walking in the dark and weren’t using crosswalks, said Austin Riley, a traffic fatality investigator.

Riley said alcohol was a factor in two of the pedestrian deaths. Results are still pending in a third case.

Most pedestrian fatalities happen at night, possibly because pedestrians falsely believe they’re more visible to motorists than they really are, said Tabitha Pugh, the spokeswoman for Warner Robins police.

Riley said pedestrians should take care to cross roads in well-lighted areas and wear bright colors when crossing roads at night.

“Don’t be on the phone while walking or texting while walking, “ he said. “It does take your mind off paying attention to vehicles.”

Pugh suggested that pedestrians carry a flashlight when walking at night.

Trouble spots

Although the locations of 2012’s fatalities were spread widely, police do see trouble spots where wrecks seem to concentrate.

In Warner Robins, the most accident-prone spot is the Moody Road-Russell Parkway intersection. Other bad spots include Russell Parkway at Houston Lake Road, Watson Boulevard at Carl Vinson and Russell Parkway at Kimberly Road, Warner Robins police say.

In general, motorists following other vehicles too closely was the chief contributing factor, Pugh said.

In other areas of Houston County, traffic investigators cite as trouble spots the heavily traveled Ga. 247 from the Bibb County line to Ga. 96, Perry Parkway at Macon Road, Houston Lake Boulevard at Gunn Road, and Elberta Road at Gunn Road.

The Georgia Department of Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railroad expedited the placement of a gate crossing at the Ignico Drive crossing in Warner Robins after a May 27 crash that killed a Macon woman and her infant daughter.

In Bibb County, there are still many wrecks on I-75 south of Hartley Bridge Road and at the new Sardis Church Road interchange where the road narrows from five lanes to four, Gunnels said.

Up until September, drainage problems caused water to pool on the road, and deputies closed lanes to reduce the number of cars hydroplaning and crashing.

A temporary ramp onto I-75 south near Arkwright Road has become a haven for rear-end collisions.

“Everybody’s looking backward” preparing to merge onto the interstate and accelerates, expecting that the car in front of them has gone. But sometimes, the car is still there and a collision ensues, he said.

Final plans for the interchange include a full merge lane with better visibility.

Deputies also see similar rear-end collisions as cars turn right from Northside Drive onto Riverside Drive in front of the Mandarin Chinese Restaurant. Drivers look to the left, searching for an opening in oncoming Riverside Drive traffic and strike the car in front of them.

There’s no fix coming for that interchange.

“There’s little we can do,” Gunnels said. “You’ve got to pay attention to what the vehicle in front of you is doing.”

In Macon, police often see crashes at the I-16 interchange at I-75 as cars have difficulty navigating the intersection.

Police also work lots of crashes on I-16 East at the Spring Street exit.

The traffic lights on Gray Highway were synchronized in 2009 to allow more cars to turn onto Gray Highway and clear the exit ramp, Riley said. Police still work plenty of wrecks there.

Riley said police plan to compile a list of the top 10 crash locations and assign them to officers who will look for motorists committing traffic violations that have caused crashes in the past.

“It has worked in the past,” he said.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398. To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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