published Friday, June 10th, 2011

Patrols target rising fatalities in Cumberland County

A dozen people lost their lives on Cumberland County roads already this year, and Tennessee, county and local law enforcement personnel plan a crackdown today on speeders and unsafe drivers.

The 12 traffic deaths compare with a single death by this time in 2010, according to Tennessee Highway Patrol records. The dramatic increase is in contrast to the 82-fatality drop across the state so far this year compared with last year, state officials said.

“We’re off the board compared to what we were last year,” said Crossville police Lt. Fred Sherrill, a 20-year veteran at the department.

Sherrill has seen the county’s fatality numbers wax and wane over the years, but the current peak “is something we’ve got to get a handle on,” he said.

He couldn’t put a finger on a cause, he said, but he knows the remedy.

“We’re going to be checking for everybody’s seat belt — making sure everybody’s buckled up and safe — and slow them down a little bit,” he said.

Highway patrol officials said records show nine of the 12 people who died this year in Cumberland County were not wearing their seat belts. State safety data shows half those deaths happened on I-40 and the others happened on state and federal routes in rural areas of the county.

Officers also will watch for impaired drivers, Sherrill said.

“The city will start at 9 a.m. [CDT] and we’ll roll it over into the early morning hours of Saturday,” Sherrill said, while county officers will start patrols at 6 a.m.

Increased law enforcement visibility is a key to getting people to slow down and think about safety, he said.

“Even me, if I come around a corner and I see a trooper, my foot comes off the gas,” he said with a laugh. “Visibility saves lives.”

Casey Cox, Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office chief investigator, said saturation patrols primarily will focus on Interstate 40, which runs east to west across the county.

The main idea is to make people aware of the need to wear seat belts and child restraints in cars and helmets on motorcycles and to avoid excessive speed, Cox said.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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