By NANCY TULLIS
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
LISBON -- Getting behind the wheel?
Buckle up. Slow down. Pay attention.
After seven fatalities on Columbiana County highways in the first four months of 2002, Lt. George Williams said troopers continue to remain highly visible, enforce Ohio traffic laws and emphasize safe driving practices.
Williams said that the public may view the patrol's efforts now as reactive but that "we're doing things we've always done."
"We just keep sending the message to buckle up and be very careful," he said. "Most crashes can be prevented. Drivers become distracted. When you drive, you must give 100 percent of your attention to the road."
High school prom season is in full swing with graduations and summer travel yet to come, but already Lisbon post troopers have seen nearly as many people killed as in all of 2001, when 10 people died.
"For most of these crashes, we have no idea why they happened, and we'll probably never know," he said. "Speed could have been a factor in some, but in others the vehicles were at or even below the speed limit."
He said two of the crashes were alcohol-related, compared with five of the 10 in 2001. Three of seven victims were not wearing seat belts, compared with three of 10 in 2001.
Fatal crashes in recent years have occurred in all areas of the county and on all patrol shifts, Williams said. Most occur on the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. day shift, specifically between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., he said.
He said the winding and hilly U.S. Route 30 west of Lisbon is particularly dangerous. Two of the most recent fatal crashes occurred there, including the one that claimed the life of Josh McAllister, 17, of Lisbon David Anderson High School, who died Tuesday morning.
"We've always known Route 30 is bad," he said, "but now there have been four crashes in the past two years on a two-mile stretch there."
Williams said troopers will continue to patrol that area as much as possible. He said troopers concentrate enforcement in different areas of the county at different times. When OSHP cars are visible, motorists take notice, he said.
"When people see us, they're more careful," he said. They're going to slow down, at least for a little while.
"But even if we had enough troopers to have a patrol car at every intersection in the state, there would still be crashes."
Williams said handling traffic crashes is the worst part of a trooper's job.
"They can take a toll on you," he said. "Injury crashes sometimes have more effect on a trooper than a fatal crash. When someone is injured and conscious, it's tough because they are hurting. Sometimes they are screaming."
Williams said the fact that six of the seven victims this year were under 25 is especially difficult, but so far, troopers are coping.
"What can I tell you?" he said. "Crashes are traumatic, and they're worse when we have to deal with kids."
Williams said OSHP has counseling available if troopers have difficulty coping with what happens on the job. Most recognize when a fellow trooper is having difficulty, he said.
Some troopers have special training to counsel their peers and may suggest they seek professional help, he said.
Williams said a psychiatrist is also available at OSHP headquarters in Columbus.