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Traffic enforcement campaign kicks off on I-985
Program started in 2007
Lt. Allen Marlowe, Georgia State Patrol Troop B commander, speaks to members of the media along with Governor’s Office of Highway Safety Director Harris Blackwood, left, the agency’s Deputy Director Spencer Moore and Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic, right, during a news conference announcing Operation Thunder Thursday afternoon at the Elachee Drive Bridge over Interstate 985.

A 75-car motorcade of mainly police and deputy cruisers commanded attention at 3:30 p.m. Thursday as the kickoff to Operation Thunder took over parts of Interstate 985.

Law enforcement participants who arrived to support the campaign's official rollout on Elachee Drive Bridge snapped photos as dozens of blue lights moved en masse along the major traffic artery beneath them.

The spectacle preceded a formal news conference arranged by the Governor's Office of Highway Safety.

Unveiled were plans for an intense 90-day period of traffic enforcement in Hall County.

"We're here for one reason, and that's to save lives," said Spencer Moore, deputy director of the coordinating agency.

Added Harris Blackwood, new director of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety: "How do we do that? We do that with our law enforcement partners."

Operation Thunder is described as a multi-agency campaign aimed at preventing traffic deaths. Hall County drivers were warned to expect three months of pressure on Gainesville and county roads. Specially trained traffic enforcement units throughout the state will join with local officers and deputies to combat seat belt, speed and DUI violations.

"This is our job," Blackwood said. "We saw a need and we're addressing it."

He said Hall County was Operation Thunder's first area of focus in 2011 because of an unexpected increase in traffic deaths last year. November was particularly deadly, Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic said, with three fatalities occurring in two days and four total deaths by month's end.

Twenty-three people died in vehicle accidents throughout the entire county in 2010, Cronic added.

Operation Thunder, an effort staged in various parts of Georgia every year since 2007, is geared around leveling fatality statistics.

"One life is too many," Blackwood said.

Bonnie Reynolds presented a human portrait of such loss Thursday. She spoke of her son Matthew who was pictured in a frame family members held nearby. He died in a 2002 crash caused by a drunk driver on I-985.

"It's one of those heart wrenching things. You do everything you can do," Cronic said, a few minutes after Reynold's tearful talk. "(This is) not about who gets credit but accomplishing the task. That's what Operation Thunder is all about."


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