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Crash highlights construction zone dangers

Fatal crashes in construction zones are down statewide this year, but a fiery crash that killed two on Interstate 75 Wednesday should send a vital message to motorists, officials said.

“Construction zones are very dangerous,” said Sgt. Joe Gebhart of the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s Piqua Post. “There’s a lot going on. If people don’t comply with the signs and slow down and pay attention, they can get in trouble pretty quick.”

Two out-of-state semi-truck drivers were killed just before 10 p.m. Wednesday in a seven-vehicle accident about two miles north of a construction zone in the southbound lane of Interstate 75 near the Ohio 571 overpass in Tipp City. Identities of those killed have not been released by the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office.

Cleanup of burned pavement and diesel fuel lasted until 6 p.m. Thursday and had traffic limited to one lane 16 hours after the accident. The initial estimate was $40,000 for damage caused by the wreck.

Fatal, injury and property damage car accidents in Ohio construction zones are down — just five fatal accidents before Wednesday’s crash in 2013 compared to 16 in 2012. Injury crashes have been reduced from 1,323 in 2012 to 389 so far in 2013.

“Typically, we’ll partner with ODOT and we’ll put our units prior to those zones and that way it serves as not only a visual reminder but also we take enforcement action to try to slow traffic down before they get into that problem area,” Gebhart said.

The OSHP reports that overall fatalities are also down with an estimated 603 traffic deaths in 2013 compared to 649 this time last year. Ohio is on pace for fewer than 1,000 traffic deaths. The lowest total was 1,014 in 2011.

Officials urge caution

But officials warn drivers that the four-day Labor Day period killed 14 people in crashes last year with five of those involving an impaired driver. Add in the Gentlemen of the Road music festival in Troy, some minor work zone projects and impaired drivers and Gebhart said the mix could be deadly.

“We’re definitely concerned about the aggressive drivers, especially the alcohol and the drugs,” Gebhart said. “We will be out there. We’ll be diligent. And we’ll also be there visible and taking care of any traffic issues that come up or any people that are broke down and need assistance.”

More than 1.2 Ohioans are expected to be traveling on roadways over the weekend, according to AAA. The Mumford and Sons concert could bring 50,000 people to Troy and locals are encouraged to take alternate routes to lessen traffic congestion.

“It’s not just about enforcement, it’s about service,” Gebhart said. “We want to be there for the citizens and anyone coming into town. It’s a big deal here in Troy and we want to do what we can to make it successful.”

ODOT District 7 spokeswoman Mandi Dillon said special events are taken into consideration when construction work is planned. She said ODOT talked with the University of Dayton when the First Four event took place in March.

“If there’s events that are going to be happening or a holiday, we typically don’t work as much or have things as closed down,” Dillon.

Chain-reaction crash

OSHP officials said three semis and four passenger vehicles were involved in Wednesday’s accident in which the proximity to a construction zone is being considered a contributing factor.

“The traffic was slow,” OSHP Lt. Rick Albers said. “One of the commercials was unable to get stopped, impacted a passenger car, and then impacted another commercial vehicle.”

The second semi involved in the crash was pushed into a third semi, which then struck three additional passenger vehicles stopped in front of it, Albers said. A police cruiser also was damaged in the fire.

The impact of the collision caused two semis to erupt in flames, Albers said. The flames, which stretched several hundred feet north from the end of the crash scene, were extinguished by fire departments from Tipp City, West Milton, Vandalia and Butler Twp.

The injured woman, who was in the initial car involved in the crash with the first semi, was transported to Upper Valley Medical Center for treatment. Gebhart said her injuries did not appear to be serious. The crash remains under investigation.

“The biggest thing is for people to slow down and to look well ahead of where they’re driving,” Gebhart said. “So many times these crashes could be prevented if people just allowed a little extra space between them and the other vehicles and just slowed their speed down.”

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