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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of December 17 - 23, 2003


Highway death toll
far outpaces average

14 killed on Blaine County
highways this year

"It has been a very tragic year for us with 14 people killed. Many would have been able to survive if they had had their seat belts on."

WALT FEMLING, Blaine County sheriff

Express Staff Writer

Fatal automobile accidents in Blaine County and throughout Idaho are far outpacing average numbers this year.

Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling said 14 people have been killed on Blaine County’s highways since the first of the year. In an average year, two to four people die on the county’s roads.

The most significant common denominator among the local accidents was a failure among a majority of the victims to wear seat belts, or to wear them properly. Nine of the 14 fit that description.

"It has been a very tragic year for us with 14 people killed," Femling said. "Many would have been able to survive if they had had their seat belts on."

What’s more, the upward trend in roadway accidents is not unique to Blaine County this year. The entire state is on a record-setting pace.

Through October, 241 people had died on state roads, the Idaho State Police said. If the November and December average of 35 more deaths is exceeded even slightly, the state’s fatality total will exceed 278, a mark set in 1999—and the most highway deaths since 1982.

Last year, 264 people died on Idaho roads, up five from the previous year, according to State Police statistics.

In Idaho State Police District 4, which includes Camas, Blaine, Gooding, Lincoln, Twin Falls, Jerome, Minidoka and Cassia counties, there have been 61 fatalities so far this year.

"That’s a record, and we’re not done with the year yet," said District 4 Lt. Rob Storm.

This year’s increase in fatal accidents comes despite a statewide rise in seat-belt use—something state authorities say has kept the fatal numbers from being even higher.

"There is a correlation," State Police spokesman Rick Ohnsman said. "Obviously we’ve got a lot of other things—better-engineered cars, better roads, better paramedics. The problem we’re getting into is that while we’ve kept the lid on with these other things, Idaho continues to grow.

"In the face of that growth, it’s hard to keep the lid on," he said.

Seat-belt use hit 72 percent throughout Idaho this year. That was 9 percentage points higher than last year but still below the national average of 79 percent.

"With so many of these crashes, I can go back and point to people who should have been alive," Storm said. "And everybody thinks, it’ll never happen to me. Unfortunately, it does."

Blaine County’s fatal year began in January when a Hailey woman and her 17-day-old infant were killed in a Highway 75 accident south of Timmerman Hill. Carola Arias, 30, and Ariana Camila Arias, were passengers in a 1997 Ford Escort driven by Jose L. Arias, Carola’s husband.

The family was northbound on Highway 75 when the car drifted onto the right shoulder. Arias overcorrected and slid across the southbound lane, where the car hit a 1994 Ford F-250 pickup head-on. Carola Arias was not wearing a seat belt, and the baby’s child safety seat was not secured correctly. Speed and over-correction are blamed for the accident.

In April, a Bellevue man died in a single-car accident on Highway 75 near the intersection of Countryside Boulevard in Hailey.

J. Crus Ruiz Murillo, 34, was traveling northbound on Highway 75 when his vehicle went off the right shoulder at about 6:30 a.m. Ruiz over corrected, crossed the highway and struck a gate into the Friedman Memorial Airport. He was ejected from the vehicle, which rolled and came to rest on its roof.

He was not wearing a seat belt, and alcohol was a factor in the crash.

Two teens were killed in separate accidents within 100 yards of each other in southern Blaine County in May.

Adonnia C. Boyer, 18, of Richfield was killed in a single-car rollover on Higway 75 near the southern county line. She was not wearing a seat belt. In a separate accident that month, Sara Alstrom, 17, was ejected from a vehicle she was riding in near the same location. She also was not wearing a seat belt.

In July, a young man from the Wood River Valley was killed when the vehicle he was in flipped, ejecting both of its occupants along U.S. Highway 20 near Moonstone Landing. Whitney J. Henry, 20, of Bellevue, was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident.

Henry and Glen Sorensen, who owns Glass Masters, were westbound in a 2001 Ford pickup truck on Highway 20 with a utility trailer loaded with windows in tow.

As Henry and Sorensen attempted to pass a 1983 Mac dump truck, the trailer began to fishtail and struck the truck, Femling said. The Ford then lost control and hit and climbed a concrete roadside barrier. Henry was not wearing a seat belt.

Also in July, Pettit Lake-area resident Joyce Hamula, 70, died en route to the hospital after making a U-turn in front of a truck in the Sawtooth Valley. She was not wearing a seat belt.

Four local teens were killed on Highway 93 northeast of Carey in September. Kimberly G. Mitma, 17; Shawn P. Barber, 14; Nicko E. Gabiola, 14; and Anthony L. Fiscus, 19 were killed in the accident and were all wearing seat belts. The accident is attributed to alcohol and an over-correction.

In October, a Hailey woman was killed when her vehicle veered across Highway 75 south of Bellevue and careened into a gravel-filled dump truck. Deborah S. Youngblood, 49, a speech pathologist with the Blaine and Camas county school district, died at the scene of the accident. Youngblood was wearing a seat belt. The accident is attributed to medical complications.

Blaine County’s most recent fatalities occurred in October. Two Hailey men were killed when they collided with a pickup truck hauling a horse trailer on Highway 75, south of Hailey. Wayne Michael Rahn, 24, and Gumecindo Egoavil Macha, 43, were killed on impact, and were not wearing seat belts.

The accident is attributed to alcohol, drugs and high speeds.

Capt. Stephen Jones, a patrol commander in heavily populated southwestern Idaho, said the fatalities reflected excessive speed, possible alcohol impairment, inattention and failure to use seat belts.

"While weather and road conditions may be factors in a crash, they are never the cause," Jones said. "It is up to each individual driver to drive carefully and responsibly, adjust to road, weather and traffic conditions and use the safety devices."

Also, Femling said many of the accidents have been difficult for the community. Many of the victims were local residents and children.

"If putting this together will help prevent any more accidents, it will have been worth it," Femling said.



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