Archive for Monday, June 6, 2011

String of fatality accidents in Douglas County underscores randomness of events

Bo Hopson hammers crosses into the ground Saturday, April 23, 2011, on the north side of Kansas Highway 10 just east of Church Street in Eudora, where a double fatality accident happened last week. Hopson, son of Eudora Mayor Scott Hopson, said the crosses were being set up to bring awareness to to the need for median cable barriers along the highway.

Bo Hopson hammers crosses into the ground Saturday, April 23, 2011, on the north side of Kansas Highway 10 just east of Church Street in Eudora, where a double fatality accident happened last week. Hopson, son of Eudora Mayor Scott Hopson, said the crosses were being set up to bring awareness to to the need for median cable barriers along the highway.

June 6, 2011


Deaths in Douglas County traffic accidents

1990 — 10

1991 — 17

1992 — 7

1993 — 13

1994 — 8

1995 — 18

1996 — 10

1997 — 5

1998 — 12

1999 — 12

2000 — 8

2001 — 12

2002 — 9

2003 — 14

2004 — 9

2005 — 6

2006 — 15

2007 — 5

2008 — 14

2009 — 7

2010* — 3

2011* — 5

— Source: Kansas Department of Transportation

*Statistics for 2010 and 2011 are unofficial.

When a piece of metal last Tuesday struck and later killed Cindy Burnett through the windshield that was supposed to protect her, the Lyndon woman became the fifth person to die on a Douglas County road so far this year.

That’s already nearly twice as many deaths than occurred in all of 2010, when three people were killed in traffic accidents in Douglas County.

Burnett also became the fourth person to die in less than two months — a period that started with a high-profile crossover crash April 16 on Kansas Highway 10 near Eudora that killed 5-year-old Cainan Shutt and the driver of the other car. That accident has spurred a study on the safety of the median of the major commuter highway between Lawrence and the suburban Kansas City area.

But at this point, the number of traffic deaths in Douglas County so far this year doesn’t seem to be approaching a record, compared with two decades worth of Kansas Department of Transportation data.

For example, 18 people died on Douglas County roadways in 1995, the most in statistics reviewed starting with 1990. More recently 14 people died in 2008 and 2003, and 15 were killed in 2006 crashes.

Steven Schrock, a Kansas University assistant professor of civil engineering, said it’s not uncommon for a few fatality crashes in one area to occur with a short time after a long period when there are zero or very few, which can cause emotional reactions from the public.

“They’re random by definition,” said Schrock, who studies highway safety.

He said state transportation officials must examine several years worth of data to determine trends about safety on specific roadways, which is what Gov. Sam Brownback has requested KDOT do when studying whether to place a cable barrier on the K-10 median.

Kim Qualls, a KDOT spokeswoman, said the state looks at trends for accidents on specific roadways and by the type of cause, such as inattentive driving or cross-median crashes.

“That’s why we review every situation. We look at all the details,” she said.

All of the fatality accidents in Douglas County this year have occurred on different roads:

• Kyle Snyder, 22, of rural Lecompton, died Feb. 4 in icy conditions when his pickup truck collided with an oncoming train in a crossing at East 950 Road.

• Cainan Shutt and Ryan Pittman, 24, both of Eudora, died in the April 16 crash when Pittman’s eastbound car crossed the median and struck the minivan Shutt was riding in with his grandparents and sister, who were all injured. The final autopsy report is not yet complete, but the Kansas Highway Patrol is investigating whether Pittman’s drug use could have contributed to his reaction time.

• Terry S. Star, 37, of Ottawa, died when his vehicle rolled early on May 18 off of U.S. Highway 59 about 5 miles south of Lawrence and into a field west of the highway.

Cindy Burnett was riding in the passenger seat about noon Tuesday when her husband was driving the vehicle on the South Lawrence Trafficway north of Clinton Parkway, and she was struck by a metal object. Douglas County Sheriff’s officers last week were still investigating the case and trying to find the driver of a dark-colored oncoming pickup truck hauling a trailer with a piece of heavy equipment because officers believed the driver did not know the metal object came from the trailer.

Beyond studying the safety of certain stretches of road, Qualls said KDOT also looks at certain types of crashes for trends.

According to KDOT statistics, the type of accident that killed Burnett on Tuesday is relatively rare on Kansas roads when compared with the total number of crashes. For example, 73 loss-of-cargo accidents were reported statewide in 2009, out of 61,145 total crashes. In all loss-of-cargo crashes reported from 1990 to 2010, eight people died.

Alain Deroulette, a Lawrence resident who is a self-employed painter, said Burnett’s tragic death is a good reminder for all drivers to secure items, especially in pickup trucks. He says he sees objects falling in the road often and luckily there are no injuries or major damage.

“It’s incredible how often it happens, and we don’t hear about it,” Deroulette said.

Qualls said crash statistics can bring about certain educational campaigns as well, like against texting and driving or reminding drivers to be extra careful to secure objects in their vehicles.

“We all need reminders,” Qualls said. “And it’s important that we keep those educational messages out there as well as new ones.”


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 1 month ago

Yes, it's random, but unavoidable. We travel around in large vehicles that typically exceed 60 mph which necessitates a high incidence of serious injury and death. The margin for error is just too slim, and few of us take the precautions that we should. It's very likely that whoever was driving the truck with the trailer felt that they were in too much of a hurry to take an extra five or ten minutes to make sure that everything on that trailer was secure. And Ms. Burnett paid the ultimate price.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 1 month ago

There is also the possibilty that a small piece of metal from some other vehicle was kicked up by a tire and into the oncoming traffic. Very much like the accident that caused the Concorde crash on July 25th, 2000 that killed everyone aboard that flight. Unlikely, but possible.

The only way I can think of the tragedy that took Ms. Burnett's life was that it was a horrific accident that none of us can undo after the fact.

As a very wise woman once said to me, "We can only go forward."

Hopefully, remembering that accident will cause at least one peson to check and double check their load before hitting the highway.

Brian Laird 6 years, 1 month ago

The randomness of the event with respect to the victim doesn't depend upon the culpability of the perpetrator. If a sniper decides to get on top of a building and pick off people in the street at random. The victim is still a random victim in the wrong place at the wrong time. The event is not random, but the target was.

In the case of the SLT incident, there is still a certain amount of randomness in the event. Even if the eventual projectile was inadequately secured, there was still a probability that it would (a) not come loose, or (b) come loose, but not hit anything else but the ground. Therefore, it is still a random outcome. However, the probability of that outcome was greatly increased by the truck operators negligence (assuming that the object did actually come from the truck, which is probable), and therein lies their culpability.

Crazy_Larry 6 years, 1 month ago

The Stench of Truth:

We're more likely to die in a car accident than a terrorist attack. However, I see no outcry from politicians for citizens to give up some of our driving priveledges in order that the New World Order nanny state Homeland Security Government can protect us? Where's our driver's Patriot Act? I have some more right's that I'm not using that I'd like to hand over to the bureocrats. (not) Wake up!

Crazy_Larry 6 years, 1 month ago

Oh you like that, do ya, Bootlicker? You want nanny to tuck you in tonight?

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 1 month ago

I might go for nanny tucking me in, what does she look like?

nut_case 6 years, 1 month ago

"... became the fifth person to die on a Douglas County road so far this year. That’s already nearly twice as many deaths than occurred in all of 2010."

Interesting use of grammar to make a dramatic point where none really exists.

If a person were to plot the two decades worth of numbers, you would actually find a decreasing trend to the tune of about 2 fewer deaths per decade, on average. This would have to be correlated with traffic volume to have any real meaning, but I can only imagine volume is increasing as time goes on, so as a rate of 'deaths per vehicle miles traveled', this is probably an even greater reduction.

The average over all years is about 10.2 deaths/yr, which is pretty much on track for 2011 if we extrapolate 5 deaths in the first half of the year. So overall, 2011 is shaping up to be a very average year. 2010 was an abnormally low year, actually, the lowest of the years listed - having "almost nearly half" the deaths as the next lowest years (5 in 1997 and 2007)

Niraj Shah 6 years, 1 month ago

It is nice to see the LJ world editors are on the job. The title should be " String of fatal accidents...." Unfortunate news about increase in traffic fatalities.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 1 month ago

"Unfortunate news about increase in traffic fatalities."

I think that "Unfortunate" should be changed to "Disastrous".

devobrun 6 years, 1 month ago

I don't have traffic volume data for Douglas county, but here are some baseline numbers from Kansas Data Institute for Policy and Social Research (population) and KDHE (death rates) all for Douglas County:

Population in 1990, 82k......In 2000, 100k.....In 2009, 116k

Mean death rate in the 1990s, 468 deaths per year............In the 2000s, 561 deaths per year.

Percentage of deaths due to auto accidents in the 1990s is 11.2/468 or 2.4%.

Percentage of deaths due to auto accidents in the 2000s is 9.2/561 or 1.6%. Clearly, death rates for automobiles is in decline.
Maybe the story should be that death due to auto accidents is on the decline in Douglas county?

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 1 month ago

"Clearly, death rates for automobiles is in decline."

That has been true for quite a few decades for a couple reasons. One is that vehicles built today are much safer in an accident than they used to be. And another is that the usage of one of the most important safely feature built into modern cars, that is the seat belt, is up.

Of course, there are always those who insist that they would rather die than buckle up, but I sure hope they are in the minority.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 1 month ago

a clip: The chances of dying in an automobile accident in 1953 was four times greater than in 2003, based on fatalities per mile driven in the United States. Better roads & medical care along with tougher drunk-driving laws have been attribued to some of this difference. But there was considerable improvement in vehicle safety features over the 50-year period. Significant safety improvements included power brakes, front disc brakes, four-wheel antilock brake systems, radial-ply tires, penetration-resistant windshields, padded dashboards, collapsible stearing columns, auto-body structures that crumple around passenger compartments, lap-and-shoulder safety belts, dual air bags and sun visors.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 1 month ago

And nearly all of those safety features were strongly resisted by auto manufacturers. But they were just standing up to all that sociamalistic big-brotherness, and defending your right to die a horrible death in an auto accident.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 1 month ago

Yup. Ever read 'Unsafe at any Speed', by Ralph Nader?

james bush 6 years, 1 month ago

Thanks, George, for writing a story that's factual and objective. Government cannot keep people from making mistakes and spending more money is not usually the way to solve the problem of random accidents. Brownback's micro-managing is a disappointment.

devobrun 6 years, 1 month ago

After reviewing the auto death percentages, I notice something. As a percentage of death, auto accidents have gone up 1.5 times. 50% more deaths are attributed to auto accidents in the 2000s than in the 1990s. Cars are a bit safer, but people drive more? People are more careless? Laws being enforced less? Shift in population demographics? I dunno, but my guess is inattention. I think people are more careless now because of electronic gadgetry in their cars. We live in the information age and that information addiction carries over to the automobile.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 1 month ago

iPods, texting, and cell phones come to mind,,,

Ruby81 6 years, 1 month ago

Earlier this afternoon, I was at the intersection of 9th and Iowa when a pickup truck lost half a load of wood scraps/lumber upon entering the intersection. People do need to be more careful.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 1 month ago

"People do need to be more careful."

That can hardly be emphasized enough.

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