MARIETTA - Washington County has had fewer drunk driving arrests and vehicle fatalities in 2012 as compared to the previous year. However, statewide and nationally, those numbers have gone up, said Lt. Anne Ralston, public affairs commander for the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
"Last year was a record low in the state of Ohio. Unfortunately we have seen an uptick in those numbers this year, both statewide and nationally," she said.
Nationally, vehicle fatalities are up 9 percent from 2011 statistics. In Ohio, they have increased 4 percent over the past year, from a record low of 1,015 in 2011 compared to 1,050 this year as of Thursday.
Photo by Jasmine Rogers
Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Eric Knowlton issues a warning to a speeding driver recently on Interstate 77 near Marietta. Because of the heavy traffic, the interstate is always a target enforcement area for the OSHP Marietta Post.
However, in Washington County, those numbers have decreased.
So far this year, Washington County has had 250 arrests for operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, down 6 percent from last year.
Washington County has also seen three fatal vehicle crashes in 2012, four fewer than last year and the lowest number in recent years.
In April, Newport Elementary School teacher Laura Hoff, 58, of Newport, was killed on Ohio 7 near Sheets Run Road when her SUV was struck by a pickup truck being driven by Jake Minder, 18, of New Matamoras. Minder was indicted in June on third-degree felony charges of aggravated vehicular homicide and reckless homicide and a fourth-degree felony charge of vehicular assault relating to a child that was also injured in the accident.
In October, Fleming resident Steven N. Proctor, 55, was pronounced dead at the scene after apparently flipping his ATV on Township Road 390 at Township Road 448. It was the sole Washington County fatality involving alcohol, said Sgt. Jeffrey Welch of the Ohio State Highway Patrol Marietta Post.
And in November, Brittany N. Dicken, 27, of Little Hocking, was ejected from her vehicle after she drifted into the oncoming lane of traffic on Ohio 50 near Little Hocking. Dickens apparently overcorrected, rolling her vehicle.
Accidents in Washington County are usually scattered, said Welch.
"In one way, we're a little bit fortunate that there isn't one really bad place," he said.
Though the Marietta Post will not set target enforcement areas until after the start of the new year, Welch pointed to high traffic on Ohio 7 and Interstate 77 that always make them likely areas for major enforcement.
Nearby, Noble County also saw fewer fatalities - only one - and fewer OVI arrests - 32 - this year. That is three fewer deaths and 16 fewer OVI violations than the year before.
However, alcohol was also involved in the only fatality the county saw this year. Jason D. Bonar, 35, of Caldwell, died in March when he failed to negotiate a curve on Ohio 821, according to the patrol. Bonar had not been wearing a seat belt.
Two fatal crashes occurred in Morgan County this year, one fewer than in 2011.
In April, Marsha Wilson, 61, of McConnelsville, was ejected from her vehicle after overcorrecting and hitting an embankment on Ohio 78 near Reinersville.
Matthew Strode, 29, of McConnelsville, was killed in a single-vehicle accident in November after striking a tree on Reed Road.
Monroe County, which experienced no vehicle fatalities in 2011, saw three this year. In two separate events, pedestrians who were under the influence of alcohol were struck and killed.
"They were both extremely high test alcohol levels," said Lt. Jeff LaRoche of the OSHP St. Clairsville Post.
Derek Roberton, 23, of Clarington, was struck by a car in June while lying on Ohio 78, close to the Woodsfield exit.
Then in September, an Arkansas woman who was temporarily residing in Sardis, was killed on Ohio 7. Viola "Kim" Stark, 34, who had reportedly been walking in the roadway, was first struck by a northbound vehicle, then by a southbound vehicle, and later was pronounced dead at the scene.
The third fatality in Monroe County did not involve alcohol. Eugene Skiffington, a doctor from Washington, Pa., crashed his motorcycle on Ohio 255 in April. He was wearing a helmet at the time, said LaRoche.
Though fatalities are on the rise nationwide, strict drunk driving enforcement has actually led to a positive statewide trend.
"It does appear we're going to have a decrease in alcohol-related fatal crashes," said Ralston.
So far this year, Ohio has seen 18 percent fewer crashes attributed to alcohol than in the year before. Still, said Ralston, the Christmas and New Year holidays are often one of the most popular times for celebratory drinking.
"Our message has remained consistent, especially with the holiday season. If you do decide to celebrate by drinking, make those travel plans ahead of time so you don't make a bad decision," she said.
Ralston also added that despite this year's increase in fatalities, the trend has actually been steadily decreasing over the years.
"In 2002, we were experiencing over 1,400 fatalities a year in Ohio. Even though we've seen kind of a roller coaster, we're going to stay focused on decreasing crash causing violations in 2013," she said.
Though the Marietta Post is gearing up for New Year's Eve just like law enforcement agencies across the state, it is typically not a period of heavy OVI violations locally, said Welch.
"Really people do a heck of a job taking care of each other for the night," he added.