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Area traffic deaths on rise

Traffic deaths in the area continued to climb during the past week, despite law enforcement's boosted efforts to make roadways safer.

Three women were killed in York County during the 10-day period surrounding July 4, from June 29 to July 8, a time the S.C. Highway Patrol has designated as one of the deadliest on state roadways.

• On July 1, 20-year-old Cynthia Villejoin of Rock Hill died after her SUV flipped on S.C. 161 in York the day before.

• On Tuesday, Elaine Day, 29, of Gastonia, N.C., was killed in a two-car accident after the vehicle she was a passenger in failed to yield right of way on S.C. 161, also in York.

• Also on Tuesday, a two-car collision on Interstate 77 near Carowinds Boulevard threw six people from an SUV, killing Erica Mouzone, 53, of Thomasville, N.C.

Altogether, 32 people have died on York, Chester and Lancaster county roadways so far this year, according to the S.C. Highway Patrol, compared to 17 deaths by this time last year.

Statewide through July 5, 538 people had died on roadways, compared to 504 people last year, according to the state office of highway safety.

Highway Patrol Cpl. Bryan McDougald said a large majority of the deaths could have been prevented. While he doesn't see a trend indicating one specific problem, McDougald said most of the fatalities were caused by carelessness.

"Drivers cannot have the attitude, 'Today's not my day,'" McDougald said. "We have to think today might be the day something could happen."

More than half the fatal wrecks were caused by speeding or alcohol, McDougald said. And nearly every incident can be traced to an illegal or aggressive decision by a driver, he said.

"The simple fact is drivers aren't complying with the laws," he said.

Since June 29, state troopers and local law enforcement have practiced increased patrols, checkpoints and radar detection to sway Independence Day motorists into safer driving practices. McDougald said troopers also use computer programs to pinpoint dangerous roads and increase their presence in those areas. The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is recognized as the most lethal driving time of the year.

Local roadway fatalities have ranged from motorcycle accidents to pedestrians hit by vehicles. Statistics show the ages of individuals killed range from 7 to 80.

Four motorcyclists have died locally in wrecks since May 4, with three of those happening since June 21. But the number of recent motorcycle-related deaths doesn't necessarily suggest any trend, authorities say.

"It's just one of these things that just happened," said Lancaster County Coroner Mike Morris. "A lot more people are riding them."

Said York County interim Coroner Sabrina Gast, "If they're involved in an accident, they are more prone to injuries, including fatal injuries, because they don't have the protection that a car would give them, like air bags."

McDougald said slowing down, riding with a designated driver and being a good role model to young drivers are all part of the solution for fewer roadway fatalities. But raising awareness of the dangerous epidemic on highways might be the best way to curb deaths in the future.

"If we were sitting here talking about murders being almost double from last year, society would demand something drastic happen," McDougald said. "This goes back to the driver. If they truly understood the dangers, they wouldn't make these bad choices."

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