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Roadside deaths a stark lesson

Published: Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT

Vigilance is even more important during the heavy holiday travel season, and nothing has driven that home as much as four recent pedestrian deaths on the state’s highways.

Within the last 10 days, passing motorists have killed a state trooper, a Good Samaritan, a Tennessee man retrieving an errant tire, and a Frankfort man who lost his balance while waiting for a tow truck.

Granted, investigations continue into each accident, and it is unclear where fault – if any – lies. But two of the accidents occurred in broad daylight, and none occurred on ice-slickened roads or in construction zones.

In other words, driver inattention or carelessness may have been a contributing factor, although none of the drivers have been cited by police. In one case, a medical condition was at fault.

What we do know is this:

Trooper Kyle Deatherage was on the shoulder of Interstate 55, near Collinsville, on a Nov. 26 traffic stop when he was fatally struck by a passing semi tractor trailer. The driver has a medical condition that caused him to lose consciousness, meaning he should not have been permitted to drive commercial vehicles – a problem that has since been remedied.

Jimmy Lee Westbrook of Brownsville, Tenn., was fatally struck by a car Nov. 28 along Interstate 57 near Onarga, as he tried to return an errant tire to his disabled car parked along the opposite shoulder.

Minutes later, Jack S. Douglas of Bartlett stopped to help Westbrook’s passenger drag Westbrook’s body to the shoulder. Douglas was fatally struck by another passing car as he returned to his car to call police.

Oveil Garza of Frankfort died Nov. 29 along I-57 near Markham after he lost his balance while waiting for a tow truck and fell onto the highway, where he was fatally struck by a passing car.

Illinois has a number of laws dealing with motorist behavior at or near the scene of emergency vehicles and in construction zones, even if no work is being performed. Common sense also tells us that motorists coming upon two cars parked on the shoulder – as was the case with Douglas and Westbrook – should be vigilant in checking their surroundings.

Accidents happen, even under the best of circumstances. But many of us have forgotten that driving a car is like carrying a loaded weapon; it’s perfectly legal, but requires a great deal of concentration and safety precautions.

Winter or summer, day or night, all of us need to pay attention to what we’re doing while we’re driving.

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