Thanksgiving holiday marred by fatal wrecks

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Nov. 27, 2012 at 5:27 a.m.
Updated Nov. 28, 2012 at 5:28 a.m.

For Crossroads residents, the Thanksgiving weekend was a deadly one to be on the road.

While some local law enforcement officials are still crunching the numbers, Department of Public Safety Trooper Gerald Bryant said the five-day period may be a contender for the region's most fatal holiday weekend in recent years.

There were four fatal wrecks from Wednesday to Monday - one each for Lavaca, Goliad, Victoria and Gonzales counties.

The crashes occurred for a number of reasons, such as faulty tires and speeding, Bryant said. But right now, the only unifying factor appears to be that some of the deceased were not wearing their seat belts and were subsequently ejected from their vehicles, he said.

Victoria County Sheriff's Office deputies responded to or assisted on 19 crashes from noon Wednesday to 8 a.m. Monday. That's about three times the number they investigated for that same time period last year, Capt. Herb Tucker said.

Tucker suspects more people opted to travel on land rather than by air because gas prices have dipped lower and lower. He said the gas-price decline, coupled with the pleasant weather, may have lured even the most experienced of drivers into a false sense of security.

Tucker said the sheriff's office has received national grants for the past two or three summers to host classes and erect billboards educating the public about the dangers of not using their seat belts, an offense that can land a driver with a class C misdemeanor and a hefty fine.

"We only had one fatality (in Victoria County) this year (for the Thanksgiving weekend), but even one is too many," Tucker said.

Johnny Sciacca sometimes uses Crossroads wrecks published in the Advocate as a roadmap for what should be discussed with his students at the Victoria Educational Associates, a driving school that's been around since 1991.

He said U.S. Highway 59's 75 mph speed limit may be problematic both in the summer when hot temperatures add extra stress on rubber tires and year round as deer dart out onto the roadway.

Sciacca, who is the school's owner and director, has also grown concerned by the amount of one-vehicle accidents reported in the Crossroads. He said they could have been caused by a combination of three things - the driver was sleepy, distracted or going too fast for the conditions.

He's hoping a bill that's being sent for a second time to the Texas Legislature prohibiting texting and/or using the phone while driving will pass, but recognizes it may be next to impossible for police to enforce.

"If they see someone's lips moving, how can they tell whether they're singing along with the radio or talking on the phone?" Sciacca said of hands-free devices.

Sciacca said he also won't hold his breath for a law mandating drivers continually train to properly handle vehicles because constituents would protest that they have neither the time nor the money to comply.

"I wish something like that would pass. It would sure help business," he said, chuckling and adding even the promise of lower insurance premiums don't convince many to attend. "We've always thought, like in a lot of other professions, that for every three years, you should take six hours of continuing education to stay sharp."

He said more convenient, online courses don't have as great an impact when it comes to hands-on lessons, like how to check your tires' tread. And it's in those lessons that drivers can get the basics, like appropriate following distance in inclement weather. He said that could've prevented the recent 100-car pile-up in Beaumont where thick fog obscured drivers' vision.

It takes longer than a football field to stop if you're going 75 mph. If visibility is only 300 feet in thick fog, drivers should go 35 mph, he said.

"And, still, no matter how sharp and ready you are, it's still going to be about 60 to 65 feet before you can come to a stop," Sciacca said.



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