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Chris Fordney: Interstate outrages continue

Remember the "Highway of Death" from the Gulf War of 1991, the stretch of road littered with burned-out Iraqi vehicles?

Maybe that's what we should call Interstate 81 in Shenandoah County.

We newsroom denizens can become inured to the unending carnage on the interstate. Countless times has "accident with injury, I-81," crackled across the scanner, followed by the wail of emergency vehicles heading out.

It all becomes too routine, but then there'll be a pileup with the power to shock even the most jaded among us. Either the accident is particularly horrific or we have some kind of connection to the victim.

Two weeks ago, both those circumstances occurred.

Two brothers, Stone T. Weeks, 24, and his 20-year-old brother, William "Holt" Weeks, and their dog, were killed when their Honda Civic was crushed between two tractor-trailers near Strasburg as they waited in a backup -- one of four crashes involving nine tractor-trailers over 10 hours.

Their car was consumed by fire.

They were the sons of National Public Radio correspondent Linton Weeks and his wife, Jan, an artist, and were on their way to their parents' home in Maryland from Rice University.

I can't say I know Linton Weeks, but he was my editor on a story I co-wrote 15 years ago for The Washington Post Magazine, where he worked then.

Maybe that connection brought this crash home, or maybe it's because I also have a college student who will have to use I-81 to get to school.

Or maybe it's just a plain outrage. Another outrage occurred when a recklessly driving Texas trucker, Jose Alberto Sarmiento, wiped out several members of the same family in November. Killed were 80-year-old Cordula Elma Lear, of Edinburg, and her two grandchildren, Ivan Ryman, 4, and Maggie Ryman, 1.

Another awful, fiery crash April 21 claimed the lives of three men, Ramiro Vicente-Ajtun, 35, Hilario Goux Vicente, 27, both also of Edinburg, and Dennis Lavelle Fayne, 50, of Brighton, Tenn.

Three days before that, there was another loss, that of Christopher R. Johnson, also of Edinburg. He had been severely injured in a crash on I-81 near Strasburg in 2005, and despite his disabilities, did his best to live fully until his death at age 23.

He was one of the countless people seriously hurt in crashes on the interstate.

The Post published an analysis recently that stated that even though Interstate 95 has twice as many crashes as I-81, the death rate on our interstate is more than twice that of I-95, largely due to the greater number of tractor-trailers.

There are plenty of careful, professional truckers out there, but there are also too many cowboys who will stop at nothing to stay on schedule, even if it means barreling down a snow-covered highway, spraying slush onto car windshields.

Even in good weather, we have to worry about texting drivers, inexperienced drivers, sleepy drivers, drunken or drugged drivers, inattentive drivers, foreign drivers, angry drivers or just plain bad drivers --of both cars and trucks.

Perhaps all these deaths will stir governments to finally make some real fixes on this overloaded death trap of a highway.

Otherwise the dying will continue.

And that will continue to be an outrage.

Contact Chris Fordney at cfordney@nvdaily.com.




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3 Comments



tojo45

I agree that I-81 can be a scary place to drive, and most of what you listed is relevant, except for "foreign drivers." Do you mean drivers with loads that originated in Canada or Mexico, or do you just mean immigrants? Either way, I think it needs explained. People who are already quick to point at the "@$%&&# immigrants" don't need to have their newspapers pour gas on the fire. Being foreign shouldn't be a blanket reason to blame anyone for anything.

Ryank

I would have to agree that the "foreign drivers" comment was a bit out of line..... it's not like british folks are constantly driving down the wrong side of the road and causing accidents.

claymore

Have you ever driven in L.A. or Miami?????

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