Sussex County leads state in fatal crashes

Speed is common factor, officials say
May 23, 2014

With 18 fatal crashes so far this year, Sussex County now leads the state traffic fatalities.

Numbers released by the Office of Highway Safety list 41 fatal crashes statewide, compared with 27 at this time in 2013. A total of 47 people have died on Delaware roads this year, nearly 75 percent more than last year at this time.

New Castle County comes in a close second, with 17 fatal crashes, while Kent County has had six.

“There's not one thing that jumps out as to why these crashes are happening,” said Allison Kirk, community relations officer with the Delaware Office of Highway Safety.

Speed, however, is a common factor among crashes statewide, she said.

In the last week alone, two more people died in separate Sussex County crashes – a 68-year-old Milton woman and a man who police have not identified.

Kirk said age does not appear to be a factor in the overall increase of fatal crashes. “Ages are all over the place,” she said, adding another statistic shows the number of women involved in accidents has slightly increased.

While many people point to texting as a cause of crashes, Kirk said, it is difficult for investigators to determine whether a driver was texting while driving.

“People assume because it's a single vehicle crash that texting was involved, but it's a very hard cause to capture because it's usually not blatantly obvious,” Kirk said.

Unless there is a witness or someone admits to texting while driving or a cellphone is found nearby, investigators have little to go on in proving someone was texting while driving, Kirk said.

That does not mean it is not happening; it's just difficult to prove, she said. Tracking the number of cases caused by texting is also difficult because texting while driving is lumped together with other causes in the distracted driving category. Kirk said the office does not list texting as a cause separately from using a hand-held device for other purposes.

“There are no separate codes for texting,” she said.

Last year, of 20,000 crashes statewide, only about 120 were caused by distracted driving, statistics show.

About 40 percent of the crashes so far this year could have been caused by impaired driving, but officials are waiting for toxicology reports, Kirk said. It usually takes a month or two for the results.

But even then, the office only tracks alcohol-related crashes. They do not breakdown the types of drugs that could be in a driver's bloodstream, she said.

Investigations into causes of the two Sussex County crashes on May 20 continue. In the first, a 2002 Pontiac Firebird traveling north on Cedar Creek Road south of Johnson Road at 3:13 p.m. entered the southbound lane while navigating a slight right curve in the roadway, police said.

The Pontiac drove into the path of a southbound 2000 International dump truck before veering sharply to the right, then left and rotating in a counterclockwise direction. The car returned to the southbound lane where the dump truck struck it.

Both vehicles came to rest in a ditch off the west side of the roadway where the Pontiac burst into flames with the driver inside. The driver was pronounced dead at the scene; as of press time, the driver had not been identified.

The driver of the dump truck, James Daisey, 65, of Lincoln, was treated for minor injuries at Milford Memorial Hospital and released. He was properly restrained at the time of the crash.

About two hours later, a 68-year-old Milton woman was killed in a crash on Route 16. Elizabeth Welch was driving a 2005 Toyota 4Runner east on Route 16, east of Orchard Road. For an unknown reason, the vehicle veered off the south edge of the roadway and traveled more than 300 feet on a grassy area along the road before striking a tree.

Welch, the sole occupant, was taken to Milford Memorial Hospital, where she died.

As the Memorial Day weekend approaches, Kirk said, officers in Rehoboth Beach and statewide will work overtime to prevent people from driving impaired. The Click It or Ticket campaign to enforce seatbelt safety remains in effect until the end of the weekend.

The No. 1 suggestion for drivers traveling this weekend is to slow down, Kirk said.

“We're hoping to have few accidents to report after this weekend,” she said.