Trooper urges safety after State Police investigate 5th fatal highway crash

The Monday afternoon crash that claimed the life of a Patterson man was the fifth fatality in St. Mary Parish this year, according to Tfc. Stephen Hammons, Louisiana State Police Troop I spokesman.

The parish has the highest number of fatalities this year of any parish in the eight-parish region covered by Troop I.

Troop I troopers have investigated 21 fatal crashes with 25 fatalities this year. St. Landry Parish was next in the number of fatalities with four.

Two-thirds of the crashes that have completed toxicology results have involved some sort of impairment, according to Hammons. Six of the crashes have not yet had their results completed.

Hammons said there are a few simple things drivers can do to save lives and reduce the number of serious injuries.

Speaking for his fellow officers, Hammons said the hardest thing a trooper can do is give notification that someone’s loved one is not returning home.

“This is somebody’s mother or brother. We don’t want it to be yours,” Hammons said

State police encourage all drivers to designate a driver if they will be drinking, reduce driver distractions and put on a seatbelt.

“The biggest thing safety-wise that anyone can do to protect themselves is (to wear) seatbelts,” he said “The failure to wear seatbelts is “concerning to us because it is so easy to do. It is the simplest thing you can do.”

He pointed out a sobering statistic to support his assertion that seatbelts save lives. Of the 25 fatalities investigated this year by Troop I, only three people died that were properly restrained.

Occasionally people argue that the use of a seatbelt might hinder their ability to get out of a vehicle. Hammons points to that reasoning as flawed. Without proper restraints a driver and/or passenger increases the likelihood of an injury that renders them unconscious or in some other manner unable to exit the vehicle.

For those who might be afraid a seatbelt would hinder their ability to exit a crash in a river or bayou or some other waterway, he points to a crash that involved several people in Vermilion Parish that state police investigated. All the occupants of the vehicle were able to get out of the vehicle and were rescued. Had they not been restrained he indicated there was a possibility that the force of the crash would have rendered the occupants unable to exit the vehicle.

“No argument against using seatbelts is a good one,” Hammons said.

If a driver is not in the habit of using a seatbelt and wants to increase the odds of surviving a crash and possibly reduce the severity of an injury, the driver might want to consider memory aides. Hammons suggest if a family has children they can put a child in charge of reminding everyone. Or, it could be as simple as attaching a note on the steering wheel.

“It might feel odd to have a note on your steering wheel. But it would be worse finding out how that steering wheel or windshield feels in a crash,” he said.

State police news releases often mention that routine toxicology samples were taken after a crash. Hammons points out that most daytime crashes where impairment is suspected are often due to narcotics rather than alcohol. This can include prescribed and legitimate use of narcotics.

Drivers who use narcotics for medicinal purposes should know if they drive while under the influence of their medicine and kill someone they can still be charged with vehicular homicide.

“If you are taking medicine with a warning not to operate heavy machinery, then you need to remember that a vehicle is heavy machinery,” he warned.

In regards to alcohol, Hammons points out that judgment begins to be impaired after a single drink, even a person’s judgment as to whether his ability to safely drive is compromised.

“The best thing a person can do if they are taking medicine or going to drink will be to have a plan for an alternate driver and put it in place,” was his advice.

State police want drivers to take seriously the warnings given about seatbelts, impaired driving and distractions such as cellphone use and texting.

“We don’t want to alarm people (with this message),” says Hammons. “But, we want to make sure that people are aware that by (paying attention to these issues) it can and will save lives.”

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