Motorists in Greene and Hamilton counties will soon see more highway signs alerting and detecting wrong-way drivers as the state seeks to curb wrecks that have claimed 15 lives in southwest Ohio in recent years.
Completion in Montgomery County is likely to come next year, officials said, as all three counties were among the targeted areas for increased awareness in the Ohio Department of Transportation program. ODOT is focusing on 17 counties where officials said the vast majority of Ohio’s nearly 50 wrong-way fatalities have occurred since 2016.
A St. Patrick’s Day triple fatal on Interstate 75 has a former Xenia woman facing murder charges for the deaths of three Mason family members. In late June, a Wright State University student died on I-675 in a case being reviewed by prosecutors after police said a Centerville man caused the Beavercreek wreck.
“I think it’s important to know that there is already more-than-required signage up in these areas,” ODOT Press Secretary Matt Bruning said Wednesday in an email to this news organization. “What we’re doing in these 17 counties is installing even more.”
ODOT’s new system to detect and deter wrong-way drivers — with 92 electronic signs and 82 detection devices — begins along an 18-mile stretch of I-71 in Hamilton County.
When it is activated, LED lights around the edge of several “wrong way” and “do not enter” signs will begin to flash. An alert will also be sent to ODOT’s Traffic Management Center in Columbus.
Clark County is not among the 17 targeted counties, but law enforcement there will be involved, just as they have been in Miami County, said Lt. Brian Aller, the post commander at the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s Springfield post.
“We’ll work to get traffic stopped coming toward that wrong-way driver,” Aller said. “We’ve done that before. Here in Springfield we’ve done that. We’ve also done that at Piqua, where we’ve avoided some serious crashes by doing that.”
The ODOT program was announced July 23, the same day not guilty pleas were entered for Abby Michaels, who is in the Montgomery County Jail on a $3 million bond. The 21-year-old is charged with six counts of murder, six counts of aggravated vehicular homicide and OVI for the deaths of husband and wife Karen and Timmy Thompson, and their daughter, Tessa, 10.
Michaels is set to return to court next week. Prosecutors said she was driving in the northbound lanes, pulled over in a emergency U-turn area and deliberately drove her car northbound in the southbound lanes to cause the deadly collision with the Thompsons.
ODOT’s new program would not have stopped that wreck, Bruning said. But it may have deterred Ron Myer, a 53-year-old who worked at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Authorities said he was driving southbound in I-675’s northbound lanes when the crash occurred, killing 23-year-old Paige Elizabeth Patrick.
It was still daylight at the time of the crash, which is unusual among wrong-way crashes, according to Bruning.
“Typically these are going to be overnight, in darkness, which probably makes it harder for drivers that are going the right direction to see that wrong-way driver because you don’t expect somebody ever coming at you the wrong way,” Bruning said. “No matter when they happen, they’re usually severe crashes. Thankfully they’re fairly rare.”
According to state officials, while wrong-way crashes made up less than 1 percent of all crashes in Ohio last year, they are 40 times more likely to be fatal.
Eighty-two percent of wrong-way crashes in Ohio have occurred on highway ramps targeted by ODOT in 17 counties for additional signage, reflectivity and striping.
Aside from Greene, Hamilton and Montgomery, they include Cuyahoga, Belmont, Franklin, Jefferson, Lake, Licking, Lorain, Lucas, Mahoning, Richland, Stark, Trumball and Wood.
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