Records show road isn't 'high crash' spot


Investigators with the Florida Highway Patrol use lasers to map out the scene of Wednesday's fatal car accident on State Road 121 in Lake Butler on Thursday.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.

Facts

Road's crash history

The accident history for the approximately 8-mile stretch of State Road 121 from Lake Butler to the Alachua County line, on which seven Union County children died Wednesday includes:

  • Three crashes, two with injuries in 2000.
  • 14 crashes, 11 with injuries and one fatal crash in 2001.
  • 11 crashes, five with injuries in 2002.
  • 15 crashes, 11 with injuries in 2003.
  • 15 crashes, eight with injuries and one fatal crash in 2004.
  • 12 crashes, six with injuries and two fatal crashes in 2005.
    * Source: Florida Department of Transportation

  • A deadly crash, which killed seven children in Union County, left residents along State Road 121 casting a wary eye at the section where the accident occurred.
    Neighbors along the road near the accident complained after the accident about semis and wrecks in the eight-mile stretch from Lake Butler to the Alachua County line.
    But, according to the Florida Department of Transportation, the number of crashes recorded on the road from 2000 to 2005 don't make it a "high crash segment."
    The area had 70 crashes in the five-year period with 63 injuries and four fatalities. Thirteen of the accidents involved semis and one crash included a bus. DOT could not say if the bus involved was a school bus or a commercial bus.
    Crash rates are compared to a predetermined crash rate for road segments or locations with similar characteristics to see if they are "significantly abnormal," DOT reported.
    Semis were not involved in any of the four fatal crashes, according to DOT. Nor were they rear-end collisions.
    "There are a lot of emotions about school buses," said FHP spokesman Lt. Mike Burroughs about why the data didn't match residents' reports of traffic problems. "Any time a crash involves an accident when children are fatally injured or seriously injured and a school bus, that escalates the crash event so emotions are running high.
    "This is a big event for Union County. Nothing of this magnitude has occurred in Union County for a number of years," he said.
    The National Transportation Safety Board has sent a team of investigators to Lake Butler to investigate the fatal crash.
    The average daily traffic on the section of road is 5,800, DOT reported. About 22 percent are large trucks.
    Asked about why the school bus carrying the Union County schoolchildren had stopped on SR 121 instead of pulling off the road, Burroughs said local school boards determine where school bus stops are established.
    Troopers on the scene of the accident did not note a sign on the road indicating to drivers a bus stop was ahead, Burroughs also said.
    Troopers have yet to determine if charges will be filed in the accident and are still investigating why the tractor-trailer didn't stop when it came upon the school bus unloading children and the car stopped behind it.
    Burroughs said city roads aren't necessarily safer than country roads, like the one where the crash occurred. Each offers unique challenges to motorists.
    Drivers, he said, are not normally as alert on rural roads as they are in the city.
    "In the city, you're scanning. You get on that rural road, there's not as much to look at," he said.
    Speeds also are higher on country roads than city roads, meaning problems or obstacles can seem to suddenly and rapidly appear.
    "On a rural road, you get kind of fixated. You're at a speed where you're not scanning. Things pop up in front of you."
    Lise Fisher can be reached at (352) 374-5092 or fisherl@gvillesun.com.

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