Hopes for safer July 4th travel

Photo of Kathie Warco
by Kathie Warco
Staff Writer
Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Douglas Bartoe and a dozen others plant 19 American flags at the edge of the crime victims garden behind the courthouse annex in Washington Tuesday to remember the people killed July 4 in traffic accidents on state roads over the past five years. At right, Jay Ofsanik, safety press officer for the state Department of Transportation, talks about the high rate of traffic fatalities that occur on the July 4 holiday to a small gathering in front of the crime victims garden behind the courthouse annex in Washington Tuesday. Order a Print

The last time the Fourth of July fell on a Friday was in 2008, when 66 people lost their lives in holiday weekend crashes on Pennsylvania roads, half of those in alcohol-related wrecks.

Hoping to avoid another deadly holiday weekend, the state Department of Transportation, state police and the Washington County District Attorney’s Crime Victim/Witness Assistance Program are urging drivers to not drink and drive.

“It was absolutely a deadly weekend,” Jay Ofsanik, PennDOT safety press officer, said Tuesday of the weekend six years ago. “We want to bring awareness to the upcoming holiday weekend and the tragedies that have happened on the roads in Pennsylvania.

“While this is a holiday to celebrate our independence, it has been a sad one for others.”

Betsy Dane, administrator for the county’s crime victims/witness program, said the loss of a loved one to crimes such as homicide or drunken driving is unimaginable for the families and immeasurable in the community.

“If you are 21, it is legal to drink. And at 21, you probably have a license to drive,” Dane said. “It is illegal to mix the two. You don’t want to wake up every day knowing that you killed someone because you did mix the two.”

As a further reminder to drive safely, 19 flags signifying the lives of people killed on state roads on July 4 over the past five years were placed at the Washington Crime Victim’s Memorial Garden Tuesday.

State police Lt. Douglas Bartoe, patrol section supervisor for Troop B, which includes Washington and Greene counties, said troopers will be stepping up patrols this holiday. For state police reporting purposes, the holiday begins at midnight Friday and concludes at 11:59 p.m. Sunday.

“We will be looking to reduce the number of crashes and fatalities,” Bartoe said. “Hopefully, we can get through the weekend safely.”

Not only will troopers be looking for drunken drivers, but motorists driving aggressively and speeding.

State police also announced a sobriety checkpoint will be conducted in the area this weekend.