Local News

Road fatalities up, emergency workers responding to fewer crashes

SEBRING - More people died on Highlands County roads last year compared to 2012 and the year before, even though emergency workers responded to fewer crashes countywide.

There were 20 road fatalities in Highlands County last year, involving cars, motorcycles and pedestrians. The death count for 2012 was 16, and 13 for 2011.

That's a 35 percent jump over a three-year period.

Highlands County Emergency Medical Services ambulances, EMTs and paramedics have been dispatched to fewer crashes from 2011 to 2013.

EMS Director Harvey Craven III said they responded to 1,431 vehicle crashes in 2011, which fell to 1,221 in 2012.

In 2013, they responded to 1,081 crashes, a trend that surprised Craven.

In Lake Placid, though, the number of crashes reported almost doubled from 56 in 2011 to 94 last year, remaining 90 in 2012, according to figures provided by Lake Placid Police Chief James Fansler.

Lake Placid, which had two fatalities in 2013 and 2012, had none in 2011.

In the majority of crashes Lake Placid Police Department officers worked, speeding was not a factor, Fansler said.

"Drivers are not paying attention. Many drivers tell officers 'I didn't see the car,' pertaining to the vehicle they struck," Fansler said.

"Even with the volume of traffic picking up, especially this time of year, it comes down to people being in too big of a hurry, not being courteous enough to other motorists, and not paying attention," he added. "And now with texting being more and more of a problem, I would dare to say it is quickly becoming a major reason for traffic accidents."

Wes Linscott thinks there are "two extremes" at work here.

"Lots of older drivers but also lots of younger, very aggressive drivers," he said.

Julian Eddington, who works in a business along U.S. 27 - between the busy Lakeshore Mall and Walmart intersections - agrees somewhat.

He thinks there are some who drive too fast and others who cruise in the left lane on U.S. 27 doing 30 mph, and forcing drivers driving the speed limit to change lanes.

"If everybody would go the same speed, it would be a little better but they don't," he said.

Jim Campbell, who owns an auto collision repair business close by, does not think the volume of traffic has gone up and blames drivers across all ages.

He thinks speeding is a culprit and would like the speed limit on U.S. 27 when it goes through town dropped from 55 mph to 45 mph.

Others blame distracted driving from cell phones and texting.

Jessica Hellmuth thinks the lights and the highways are not set up to handle the traffic from "too many people on the roads."

The Sebring Police Department worked three fatalities each in 2013 and 2012, and one in 2011.

According to figures provided by Florida Highway Patrol, which handles crashes in other areas, there were 12 road deaths FHP handled in 2011, 11 in 2012 and 15 last year.

Last January started off ominously in Highlands County: one pedestrian was struck by a vehicle, one driver was hit by another, and one passenger was involved in a single-car crash.