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Highway safety receives boost

AHOSKIE – Twenty-two individuals lost their lives on local roadways in 2006.

That’s 22 more than Kenny Pitts would prefer to see.

Pitts, who serves as First Sergeant of the North Carolina Highway Patrol’s Troop A, District II service area (Bertie, Gates and Hertford counties), recently strengthened his office with the addition of three new troopers.

Brian S. Allen, Angel Genao and Jeremy Reid are now stationed at the Troop A-District II office in Ahoskie. Each recently graduated from the North Carolina Highway Patrol’s Training Academy in Garner. There, the new troopers completed the 29-week training agenda by fulfilling the mandated 1,585 hours of classroom and field work.

“We certainly welcome the newest members to our office,” First Sgt. Pitts said. “Their presence will give us additional visibility on the roads in our service district.”

Pitts continued, “We want those who use our local roadways to know that the Highway Patrol is first and foremost on duty to protect and serve the motorists. If we notice a traffic law being broken, we will address that situation. But please remember when we issue a citation, we do so in an effort to allow that person to think twice before breaking another traffic law, thus leading to a decline in the number of traffic accidents and deaths on our roadways.”

Trooper Allen is no stranger to northeastern North Carolina. He is a native of Williamston who is married with a 13-year-old daughter.

“Joining the Highway Patrol has been an interest of mine for a long time, one that came true,” said Allen, who graduated at the top of his class of 34 at the NCHP Training Academy.

Trooper Genao, a native of Jacksonville, is married with an 18-month-old daughter.

“Our presence on the roads will help save lives,” Genao said. “I urge everyone to slow down and obey all traffic laws.”

Trooper Reid, who is single, comes to Ahoskie by way of his native town of Kernersville in Forsyth County.

“We’re here to make the roads safe and to protect lives,” Reid noted.

First Sgt. Pitts said each of the three new troopers would be assigned to cover Bertie County, where over one-half (12) of last year’s 22 district fatalities occurred.

“We are coming off a year where 22 people lost their lives on our local roadways,” Pitts said. “That’s one more than we had in 2005. I don’t like what I’m seeing here, a growing trend of fatalities. We will do everything within our power to see that number decline.”

First Sgt. Pitts said that effort will include a greater number of traffic safety checkpoints.

“Many people think that the checkpoints are set-up only to catch those who are driving under the influence,” Pitts said. “Yes, we do make DWI arrests at our checking stations, but we also look for proper seat belt restraint, including the new law regarding back seat passengers, as well as keeping an eye out for those traveling at excessive speeds. All of those things, when held in check, can reduce the number of vehicular accidents and fatalities.”

Pitts concluded by saying he looks forward to working with county and municipal law enforcement agencies within the local area as they all combine in an effort to save lives. To date, the sheriff’s offices in Hertford and Gates have taken advantage of state grants to assign officers to traffic duty, as does the town of Ahoskie.

According to numbers provided by Pitts, of the 22 fatalities during 2006, three were pedestrians, of which two had very high blood alcohol concentrations.

Another fatality was that of a motorcyclist.

Of the remaining 18 deaths, which were in passenger type vehicles, 10 were not secured in the vehicle by restraints. Of the 10 not wearing seat belts, five were actually ejected from the vehicle during the crash.

Perhaps the most troublesome of the numbers is that of the 22 fatalities, seven involved alcohol. Pitts said it is unknown at this time if another four deaths did or did not involve alcohol.

“We suspect prescription medicine was involved in one fatality, but this has not been confirmed as yet by the Medical Examiner’s report,” he said.

There are several other issues that concern Pitts.

“First that we had so many not wearing seat belts and 90 percent of those are in Judicial District 6B,” he noted. “Another issue which concerns me is that we have experienced this number of fatalities and our total population, based on July 1, 2005 figures, is 54,278, much lower than counties nearby which have fewer fatalities than District 2.

A mitigating factor is that alcohol was involved in 31 percent of the fatal crashes, a number much lower than the national average, however more than I want.”

As far as his goals for 2007, first Sgt. Pitts said he had developed a District Strategic Plan that addresses the following issues:

(1) Increase seat belt compliance by three percent.

(2) Reduce fatal collisions by 10 percent.

(3) Increase Driving While Impaired arrests by five percent.

(4) Reduce the over-all collisions not involving animals by one percent.

“If successful, I believe we can reduce the number of fatalities for 2007,” Pitts said.