160 fatalities on Maine roads recorded, making for ‘relatively’ safe year

Posted Jan. 03, 2011, at 8:37 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 28, 2011, at 12:28 p.m.

A 61-year-old social services agency worker from Caribou who died on Dec. 28 in Presque Isle while en route to an outing with several clients is the last recorded Maine highway fatality of 2010, officials say.

Harold Walker was in a van traveling south on U.S. Route 1 when a pickup truck heading the other way lost control and collided head-on with the van, injuring Walker and four other people in the van. He died shortly after arriving at The Aroostook Medical Center in Presque Isle.

“The roads were icy,” Michelle Ward, a fatal-accident system analyst with the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety, said Monday.

The state recorded 160 traffic fatalities in 2010, and even though the figure is one more than in 2009, it still is considered one of the lowest on record, Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said Monday.

“That was the third-safest year since 1959,” he said of the 2010 statistics. “It is one more than last year, and five more than ’08.”

The highway fatality figure for 2010 can change if someone involved in an accident in the last year dies as a result by the end of January, he said.

In 2009, 159 people died on Maine roads, and in 2008 the figure was 155.

“We’ve had three relatively safe years on Maine roads,” McCausland said.

In 2007, the state recorded 183 traffic fatalities, and in 2006 it had 188. The benchmark was set in 1959, when only 136 people died, McCausland said. The deadliest year ever for Maine highway deaths was 1970, when 276 people were killed, he said.

The record for 2010 includes two tragic accidents that took the lives of six people.

“There were two triple fatals during the year,” McCausland said. “The one in Hope was drunk driving, and the other triple fatal was the Coast Guard man’s family fatal in Dedham.”

Daniel Dodge II, 21, of Hope and his passengers, Katie Kelly, 17, of Rockland and Misti Leach, 14, of South Thomaston, were killed Nov. 8 when the 1989 Ford 150 pickup Dodge was driving crashed into a tree.

Dodge had a blood alcohol content of 0.14, nearly double the state’s legal limit of 0.08, state officials have said.

A torrential downpour and worn tires were cited as factors that contributed to a deadly crash on U.S. Route 1A in Dedham that claimed the lives of a family of three from Jonesport with connections to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Carlos A. Tapia, 34, his wife, Rachelle Tapia, 23, and her 4-year-old daughter, Mackenzie Gray, were pronounced dead at the scene of the accident, which occurred Sept. 14 when the car they were in collided head-on with a pickup truck driven by an Orono man.

Carlos Tapia was a member of the Coast Guard, and the couple had married at the end of June.

Of the 160 people who died on Maine highways in 2010, 19 were teenagers ages 16 to 19, Ward said. The teens who died included drivers, passengers and pedestrians, she said.

A full breakdown of the ages of those who died on Maine roads in the last year was not available Monday because six of the reports are not complete, she said.

In 2009, 16 people ages 16 to 19 died on Maine roads, Ward said.

This past year was a relatively good one for motorcycle drivers.

There were 17 motorcycle fatalities in 2010, Ward said. “Last year, it was 22.”

The decrease in motorcycle deaths was offset by an increase in pedestrian, bicycle and on-road snowmobile fatalities and in fatal collisions with moose, Ward said.

Pedestrian deaths increased from 11 in 2009 to 12 in 2010. Bicycle and on-road snowmobile fatalities, of which there were none in 2009, both increased by one, Ward said.

There were three moose-related fatalities last year, with only one recorded in 2009.

A new state law that requires everyone to wear seat belts may be one reason the annual highway fatalities figure remained flat last year, McCausland said.

While the state’s 2010 figure is one more than last year, it is significantly lower than a decade or two ago, he said.

In 1988, 256 people were killed in highway crashes, and as “recently as 2003 and 2002 there were over 200 killed,” McCausland said. The 2002 figure was 216, and 207 were killed in 2002, he said.

“It was not that long ago when we had over 200 people killed in car crashes” each year, he said. “We’ll take these three relatively safe years. These are encouraging numbers.”

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