Police, communities mobilize to reduce holiday traffic toll

November 25, 1990|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

Officer Joseph Aris still remembers the night six years ago when he had to knock on a young mother's door to tell her that her husband had been killed in a car accident.

"It was the week before Christmas. There was a tree out and presents on the floor," said Officer Aris, 35. "The guy had been trying to make extra money delivering pizzas, and he fell asleep at wheel."

Such experiences remained etched in the officer's mind this week as he cruised Ebenezer Road searching for speeders, drunken drivers and seat belt scofflaws.

An enthusiastic enforcer, his convictions come from having to inform wives they have become widows.

"You get cold to the scene of an accident, to the bodies in the road," said Officer Aris, a 10-year county police veteran who has investigated dozens of fatal accidents. "But it still bothers me to tell the survivors. I've never gotten cold to that."

State police say increased traffic during the holiday season leads to increased risk of highway fatalities. As of Nov. 20, 656 people had died on Maryland highways, compared with 665 fatalities by Nov. 20 last year.

With the holiday season expected to bring out more motorists, police and community groups throughout Maryland have planned a variety of programs aimed at cutting back the number of highway fatalities:

* At churches and synagogues around the state, worshipers will be encouraged in church bulletins, sermons and parking lot signs to "Buckle Up Religiously."

Some 2,400 information packets put together by the non-profit Maryland Committee For Safety Belt Use Inc. have been distributed to synagogues and churches, with 100 disseminated in each of the 23 counties and Baltimore, said Barbara W. Beckett, executive director of the group.

* Baltimore County police will post officers tomorrow and next Sunday at the White Marsh Mall to distribute seat belt literature and to catch the eyes of motorists not wearing seat belts and encourage them to buckle up by sliding their thumbs along imaginary shoulder belts.

* County police also plan to distribute $26,000 in overtime, available through a U.S. Department of Transportation grant, for officers to patrol highways between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Seven key arteries have been targeted -- Pulaski Highway, Eastern Boulevard, North Point Road, Liberty Road, Reisterstown Road, Belair Road and York Road.

Stepped-up highway patrols also are planned by state police as well as local police departments throughout Maryland.

"We'll probably work radar in busy areas, with officers posted in places where they will have increased visibility," said Sgt. Joseph H. Bisesi, a Anne Arundel police spokesman.

Police say that along with major arteries, they have targeted RTC communities where neighbors have complained about motorists speeding along residential streets.

Officer Aris said complaints about teen-agers speeding around the neighborhood near Perry Hall High School was a major factor in his decision Tuesday morning to patrol Ebenezer Road.

"People complained that it's the teen-age kids from the high school. But it's not just the kids, it's everyone," he said.

In just 20 minutes of cruising the two-lane street in front of the school in a marked car, Officer Aris nabbed a woman traveling 41 mph in the school's 25 mph school zone and a man who failed to use his seat belt.

The woman got a $45 speeding ticket.

The man, who was stopped for going 27 mph, was hit with a $25 fine for driving beltless. He then drove off in his gray Chevrolet Caprice -- still not wearing his seat belt.

"Some people never learn," the officer said.

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