Traffic fatalities increase in Cape; Missouri could see jump, too

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The death of a Cape Girardeau pedestrian in February, struck by a motorist as she tried to cross North Kingshighway, marked the city's first traffic fatality in more than two years.

But the city tallied three more during the next eight months, making 2012 the worst year for traffic deaths the city has seen in at least five years, according to statistics provided by the Cape Girardeau Police Department. With Missouri also on the cusp of reversing a similar five-year trend of declines, police across the state are urging drivers to remember to buckle up and keep their eyes on the road this holiday travel season.

"Some years we don't see any fatalities," said Sgt. Kevin Orr, who heads the Cape Girardeau department's traffic division. "So four is a lot for us."

Other local numbers aren't faring much better. Cape Girardeau also could see the number of injury crashes surpass last year's total. Last year ended with 254 injury crashes, and that number has reached 235 during the first 11 months of 2012. The total number of injuries -- because some crashes injure more than one -- stood at 309 as of Wednesday, according to department data. The number is only 30 fewer than last year's

But it is the number of fatalities, obviously, that has law enforcement most alarmed. Cape Girardeau's four fatalities also included Meg Hearndon, a Southeast Missouri State University student, in a September scooter accident; James M. Pyles, as he was pursued by police; and a Canilou, Mo., woman killed in a three-car collision on Interstate 55 in March.

Eight fatalities have occurred in Cape Girardeau County this year, the same number it had in 2011. Bollinger County, which had no fatalities last year, has had four. Scott County has had five, three off last year's total of eight. Only Perry County, which had 11 traffic fatalities last year, seems safe from seeing more this year with its total of two.

Missouri also could snap its five-year trend of having fewer fatalities, according to numbers provided by the Missouri State Highway Patrol. As of Tuesday, 753 traffic deaths had occurred along the state's roadways, which is a 6 percent increase from last year at this time. In 2011, the patrol said, 786 people died in traffic accidents.

The situation is worse in the patrol's Troop E, which is seeing a 16 percent increase with 65 deaths so far, five in November alone. In 2011, Troop E had 66 road deaths in its 13 counties that include Bollinger, Cape Girardeau and Scott.

Capt. Tim Hull, a patrol spokesman in Jefferson City, said they began noticing the increase earlier this year. By June, statewide numbers were 20 percent higher than the previous year, he said. Regrettably, Hull said, in 68 percent of the traffic fatalities, those who died were not wearing seat belts.

The other biggest factor, Hull said, is that drivers continue to focus on things other than driving -- cellphones, radios, reading or eating.

"That's when they start to leave the roadway, overcorrect, and end up hitting something," Hull said.

If the numbers climb, even slightly, Hull said, it will be the first time Missouri has seen an increase in six years.

That is why the patrol is trying to hammer away its message of buckling up and paying attention.

Just 79 percent of Missourians wear seat belts, he noted, which is well below the national average of 85 percent. Seven out of 10 Missourians killed in traffic accidents in 2011 were unbuckled.

"That's why we have zero tolerance about seat belts," Hull said. "We know these numbers. We don't want to see them get any higher than they already are."

smoyers@semissourian.com

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Pertinent address:

40 S. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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