By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Traffic deaths in this area are three times higher than they were at this time during 2002, the Montana Highway Patrol said.
Six people have been killed in this area since January, compared with two by this time last year, Highway Patrol Sgt. Mark Bosch said Monday. Alcohol or failure to use seat belts were factors in the majority of the deaths, Bosch said.
To combat the increased number of traffic fatalities, patrol officers and Hill County sheriff's deputies have implemented intensified or "saturated" patrols. During a saturated patrol, multiple officers work a single section of highway in search of speeders and drunken drivers.
"Often people pass one officer and speed up because they think there won't be another one on the road," Bosch said.
On Friday, the MHP and the Sheriff's Office conducted a saturated patrol along U.S. Highway 87 between Loma and Havre.
"This weekend was really busy," Bosch said, adding that the highway saw an increased amount of traffic due to events held in the area. Rocky Boy's Pow-Wow, the Montana State Fair in Great Falls, a motorcycle rally in Loma, and preparations for the Great Northern Fair in Havre all contributed to the high number of vehicles on the road, Bosch said.
During the saturated patrol, officers and sheriff's deputies stopped 56 motorists, issued 30 speeding tickets, made one drunken-driving arrest, wrote four citations and two warnings for seat belt violations, three citations and nine warnings for registration violations, and 10 citations and four warnings for insurance violations.
"We're trying to get people to slow down and move away from the patrol cars," Bosch said, adding that people should exercise caution when passing a squad car pulled over on the side of the highway.
"It has been a problem and it continues to be a problem," he said. " In the past we've had several officers hit. We're concerned with officer safety."
The Havre detachment of the MHP and the Hill County Sheriff's Office perform a coordinated saturated patrol every several months, Bosch said. The Highway Patrol conducts at least one a month.
The Havre detachment covers an area stretching from Chester to Phillips County and from Canada to the Missouri River. The unit consists of Bosch and four patrol officers. A fifth officer, a member of the Montana National Guard, was called up to active duty and should return in the next several months, Bosch said.
This year, five fatal crashes in north-central Montana have claimed a total of six lives. This year has also seen slight increases in drunken driving arrests and seat belt violations, Bosch said.
This year, patrol officers have made 42 DUI arrests, compared with 37 last year. Through July, officers have issued 320 seat belt tickets compared with 281 in 2002.
Officers have written more citations this year than last year, despite having driven fewer miles, Bosch said. Since Jan. 1, officers with the Havre detachment have driven a combined total of 103,068 miles, and issued 1,830 tickets. Last year at this time, officers from the detachment had driven 118,000 miles, and issued 1,789.
Although the number of fatal wrecks has increased since last year, there have been fewer crashes overall, Bosch said. The Havre detachment has investigated 125 crashes this year, compared with 150 last year, he said.
The five fatal crashes in north-central Montana so far this year were:
On Feb. 20, Bart Wilson, 32, was killed in a single-vehicle accident near Big Sandy.
Luke Blackwell, 11, was killed in a single-vehicle crash 17 miles north of Zurich on June 8.
On June 19, Ronald "Super" Doney was killed in a single-vehicle crash south of Fort Belknap.
Three days later, two local women were killed in a single- vehicle crash. Angie Swan, 24, of Havre and Jennifer DeCoteau, 28, of Rocky Boy, were killed when their vehicle rolled along U.S. Highway 87 between Havre and Box Elder.
On July 21, Lance Parker Sr., 33, of Rocky Boy was killed in a single-vehicle crash along U.S. 87 near Big Sandy.
According to information from the MHP:
Most fatal collisions occur during the summer months.
Drivers and passengers are more likely to be killed on primary highways than any other roadways.
Single-vehicle collisions account for most of the deaths.
People over age 36 are most likely to be killed.
Alcohol is a factor in a third of all fatal crashes.
More than half of all people killed are not wearing seat belts.
Seat belt use among drivers varies, Bosch said, adding that people are much more likely to be killed when they fail to buckle up.
"Some days, everyone's wearing a seat belt, and some days, you find a lot who aren't," he said. "A lot of our fatals are from people getting ejected."
Despite the best efforts of Highway Patrol officers, Bosch acknowledged that drivers themselves have the most control over their safety.
"It's kind of beyond our control," he said. "You can't be everywhere at once."