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Patrol: Wet roads pad holiday death toll

Fatalities exceeded predictions, but injuries down

POSTED: December 11, 2007 7:19 a.m.

The Georgia State Patrol reported 3,850 crashes and 26 fatalities — eight more than predicted for the 102-hour holiday travel period.

The Thanksgiving travel period started at 6 p.m. Wednesday and ended at midnight Sunday. The state patrol had estimated there would be 3,285 collisions during that time.Georgia State Patrol Senior Trooper Larry Schnall said significant rain across the state on Wednesday and Sunday contributed to the large number of wrecks.

"Those are typically our most ... traveled days," Schnall said.

Gainesville received 0.57 inches of rain during the holiday travel period, and the rest of the state saw similar rainfall totals, said Stephen Konarik, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Peachtree City.

"In general, the totals were between a half-inch to an inch," Konarik said.

Coastal Georgia saw little to no rainfall, but Northwest Georgia and areas south of Columbus received more, with an inch to an inch and a half falling in those areas, Konarik said.

Four multiple-fatality wrecks caused seven of the weekend’s fatalities.

Three of the multiple-fatality wrecks occurred in South Georgia, but the other occurred in Athens-Clarke County on Saturday. The Athens wreck involved a 14-year-old driver, and left 16-year-old Jaimie Valdez and 14-year-old Carlos Hernandez dead. The 14-year-old driver faces multiple charges.

Schnall said at least four of the 26 reported deaths were alcohol related.

But the patrol’s prediction for injuries over the holiday period fell short. Officials expected 1,299 injuries, but the state reported 844 during the holiday period.

Schnall said he believed the number of
injuries was lower because travelers were wearing seat belts.

"We’re confident that our education,
public service announcements and the enforcement did make people wear their seat belts, leading to less injuries," Schnall said.

Schnall said the Georgia State Patrol was in a "Click-it-or-ticket" wave, where public service announcements emphasize the importance of seat belt use, and troopers enforce the seat belt law more vigorously.

"We feel like our message did get across to some to buckle up," Schnall said.

"We’re not out there in a ticket-writing competition," Schnall said. "But sometimes the enforcement efforts ... basically make people fearful that they’re going to get caught so they do buckle up and they do slow down."

In 1969, 43 people died on Georgia’s roads during the Thanksgiving travel period, the highest toll the state has recorded thus far.

"We’ve got faster cars, busier interstates, more roads today, so we feel like that during those years people weren’t wearing their seat belts as we are now," Schnall said.

In 1949, the state had its lowest number of Thanksgiving road deaths when four people died during the travel period.

Last Thanksgiving, 19 people died on Georgia’s roads during the travel period.



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