During an almost eight-week period from early September into early November, nobody died because of an accident on a Harford County roadway.
Considering that there were already 23 deaths in the previous eight months and two weeks – matching the total for all of 2011, the sudden respite might have been taken as a good omen. In fact, there were no highway deaths recorded in the county in October, and there hadn't been a fatality-free month in years.
Perhaps all the attendant publicity surrounding many of the earlier deaths was finally taking hold in the public conscious; perhaps law enforcement officials' mantra for drivers to slow down and pay better attention was having the desired effect.
The evening of Nov. 17 shattered any such illusions, however, when a smallish car, said to be favored by contemporary street racers, went out of control on a treacherous stretch of Route 624 near Broad Creek in the Street area. The 2008 Mazda3 went airborne and smashed into a tree. Maryland State Police who arrived at the scene said the impact severed the car in two and sent half of it into a ravine.
Inside were five friends, ranging in age from 19 to 21, who were returning from a dinner in Havre de Grace. The driver and two of the passengers were pronounced dead at the scene. Two other passengers were flown to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore in serious condition. They survived.
The State Police accident report driving too fast for conditions on the two-lane, curvy road was a contributing factor.
Five more people would die in accidents before the year's end, the last fatal accident occurring on New Year's Eve, just 40 minutes before the start of 2013.
Unofficially, 2012 concluded with 31 highway deaths on Harford's highways, a huge spike over both 2010 and 2011.
The Nov. 17 accident in Street was Harford's second accident with three fatalities in 2012. On the evening of Feb. 20, three siblings from Fallston were killed on Route 543 south of Bel Air when their car crossed the center line, hit an oncoming car head-on and then spun around and was hit by a second car. The siblings' vehicle also broke in two.
The State Police accident report from the February triple-fatal says contributing factors included excessive speed, failure of the driver who died to keep to the right of center, failure to give full time attention and driving too fast for conditions.
In addition to the two accidents that involved three fatalities, there were two others in which two people were killed last year.
The first double fatality occurred in May on Route 152 in Joppa when a work truck owned by Harford County Public Schools inexplicably crossed the center line of Route 152 near Reckord Road and was hit head on by an oncoming vehicle. Both drivers were killed, while the driver of a third vehicle that couldn't avoid hitting the second, suffered serious injuries, as did a passenger in the work truck.
The second double-fatal accident occurred on Nov. 24 on I-95 near the Route 24 overpass in Abingdon, and State Police said it appears to have involved some sort of road rage.
A state trooper pulled three people from a burning Lexus early on Saturday morning, likely saving the life of one man, police said, while another man and a teenage girl died from their injuries, according to the Baltimore Sun report on the accident. The driver and one of the passengers died.
According to State Police, the Lexus was hit by a box truck traveling north on the highway after the 31-year-old driver of the Lexus, who was from Abingdon, pulled into the right lane of traffic from the shoulder. Police said that before the accident the driver of the Lexus appeared to have been involved in a dispute with some people riding in a dark-colored Jeep. The Jeep had stopped suddenly, forcing the Lexus to do the same, and the two vehicles had pulled over onto the shoulder, according to police.
A group of people got out of the Jeep and at least one was banging on the windows of the Lexus, police said. The driver pulled away cutting across the northbound lanes of the highway and was hit by the truck, according to police, while the Jeep left the scene. No charges have been filed in connection with the accident.
Police concerns mount
Following the triple-fatality in February, both State Police and Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane appealed to drivers to slow down and pay better attention. As the death toll continued to mount, traffic enforcement efforts were redoubled by both agencies.
In earlier interviews, Bane in particular cautioned drivers to be particularly aware that the county has a lot of two-lane highways that are handling an ever-increasing volume of traffic, a sure prescription for trouble if drivers aren't paying attention. Many of those highways are major travel routes, such as Routes 543 and 152, where there were multiple fatalities 2012.
"It wasn't the worst year, but it was a bad one," Bane said Tuesday afternoon.
The sheriff also said that a highway safety task force made up of representatives from the Sheriff's Office, State Police and local municipal police departments plans to present a report to the Harford County Council during its Jan. 15 legislative session in Bel Air.
The task force was formed in 2011 to target specific areas in the county where traffic problems were concentrated and, though police agencies stepped up enforcement efforts last year after there were so many deaths, the carnage on the roads continued.
One fatal accident last year in particular hit close to home for Bane and the rest of the Sheriff's Office.
Early in the morning of Sept. 6, one of Bane's own deputies, headed home to Rising Sun at the end of his shift, was killed when his unmarked cruiser went out of control and hit a tree on Route 1 in Darlington.
A few hours later on the other side of the county, a Pennsylvania man driving to work at Aberdeen Proving Ground died after he lost control of his car on Route 22 and hit a guardrail, about two miles from the APG gate.
What the numbers say
The 31 Harford highway deaths last year were eight more than in 2011, seven more than in 2010. They also exceeded the 26 deaths in 2009, 21 in 2008 and 29 in 2007.
There are a few caveats about 2012's number:
One of the six pedestrian deaths last involved a woman who ran into traffic on I-95 and was killed, and police have ruled her death a suicide.
Conversely, the 31 total does not include a motorcyclist killed in a crash in Havre de Grace in May who didn't die until two months later; State Police say a highway fatality is not recorded statistically if the death occurred more than 30 days following the accident.
In addition, the death of a driver last March following what police said was a minor crash at the end of the Bel Air Bypass at Harford Road in Benson has been attributed to a "medical emergency" by State Police, who say the accident itself was incidental to the fatality. As a result, that death is not counted for statistical purposes.
In addition to the aforementioned I-95 suicide, the five other pedestrian deaths in 2012 included two other people who were killed in Aberdeen, one on Route 22 and the other on Route 40; one person killed on Route 24 south of Bel Air; one person killed walking along Route 755 in Edgewood; and one person killed as he helped a disabled motorist on Route 152 in Joppa and was struck by a vehicle exiting nearby I-95.
Not surprisingly, speed, driving too fast for conditions and failure to give full time and attention show up most often in the contributing circumstances block on police accident reports for last year's fatal accidents.
More surprisingly, perhaps, drug or alcohol impairment was not cited as a contributing factor in any of the 2012 fatal accidents involving vehicle collisions.
Multiple highways, multiple deaths
In addition to the motorcyclist who died two months after the accident in Havre de Grace in May, four other motorcyclists were killed last year, one on Route 440 near Dublin, one on Route 147 near Reckord Road in Fallston and one on Route 22 in Fountain Green.
The highways with the most deaths last year were Route 543 and 152. Less than two weeks after the triple-fatal on Route 543 in February, a man was killed in a three-car accident on Route 543 about two miles south of the earlier accident.
In addition to the double-fatal on Route 152 in May, a young woman was killed in August in a three-car accident less than a mile south from the first. Police said her vehicle crossed the center line and caused the crash. A fourth death occurred Dec. 17, when an Abingdon man was struck and killed as he and a Maryland Transportation employee aided another motorist who had a flat tire near one of the I-95 ramps. State Police say a vehicle exiting southbound I-95 onto northbound Route 152 struck one of the stopped vehicles and the two people on the shoulder. The accident report lists contributing factors as driving too fast for conditions, failure to drive in a single lane and wet roadway.
The section of I-95 in Harford was the site of the two fatalities from the accident on Nov. 24 and a third on Dec. 8, when an Aberdeen woman drove onto the Route 22 exit ramp and ran under a tractor-trailer parked on the shoulder of the ramp.
Other highways in the county with multiple fatal accidents last year (not involving pedestrians) included Route 22 — three (two in Aberdeen, one in Fountain Green); Route 40 between Robin Hood Road and Lewis Lane in Havre de Grace — two; and Route 23 in Forest Hill between Route 24 and Route 165 — two.
The greater Aberdeen and Havre de Grace area had the greatest concentration of deaths, nine, with eight of those in Aberdeen. There were two other deaths south of I-95 in the Joppa-Edgewood area; five deaths in the area between Route 147 in Fallston and I-95 in Joppa; and seven in northern Harford County.
Ages of drivers killed last year range from 17 to 83. A 17-year-old man from Belcamp was the year's last fatality, dying in a head-on collision in Aberdeen on New Year's Eve in which excessive speed was a contributing factor, according to the Sheriff's Office. An 18-year-old Forest Hill woman was killed in a June 26 head-on collision on Route 152 in Joppa in which State Police say her vehicle crossed the center line.
Four of the drivers killed last year were between the ages of 20 and 29, five between 30 and 39, three between 50 and 59 and two between 30 and 39. One driver killed was 69, another was 79.
Two passengers died in accidents where the driver of their vehicle did not, one of whom was killed by a deer carcass that went through the windshield of a dump truck in which he was riding, after the animal had been hit by a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction.
The month with the most fatalities last year was February with seven. November ranked second with six. There were three in deaths in March, May (not counting the motorcyclist who died two months after his accident), September and December. There were two deaths in August and one each in January, April, June and July.