Road with a heavy toll Interstate 97: Officials must address highway after rash of similar fatal accidents.

September 03, 1997

SOMETHING IS WRONG on Interstate 97, which links Baltimore to Annapolis. The past three months have seen four fatal accidents involving out-of-control southbound vehicles crossing the median strip. When these accidents occur so close in time and vicinity, something other than coincidence is at work.

Prior to the two most recent accidents, state officials reviewed the highway and concluded that its design met accepted standards, according to state Transportation Secretary David L. Winstead and Col. David B. Mitchell, superintendent of the Maryland State Police.

The grassy median is wide enough at 50 feet not to require concrete Jersey barriers to separate oncoming traffic; the barriers could pose risks of their own, the officials said.

Nevertheless, the frequency of these fatal collisions indicates that the normal standards may not offer ample protection.

On Aug. 23, Warren M. Sommerville, 55, of Severn, died after his southbound van crossed the median of I-97 in Crownsville at 3: 30 a.m. and overturned in the northbound lanes.

During a downpour on Aug. 21, Harry Axelrad, 23, of Annapolis, was killed when his southbound vehicle crossed the median and struck another car at 6: 30 p.m.

On June 25, Keena Latanya Parker, 20, of Annapolis, was killed when her southbound car crossed the median in that area and collided with a tractor-trailer about 6 p.m.

On the morning of June 10, Worthington S. Keville Jr., 57, of Crofton, was killed when his vehicle was struck by a southbound vehicle that had crossed the median into his path.

On stretches where the accidents have occurred, south of Route 100, the posted speed is 65 mph. Traffic generally moves faster than this, however. Returning the limit to 55 mph, as on most other highways nearest Baltimore and Washington, might counter this problem.

If the speed limit isn't lowered, enforcement of the current one must be stepped up. Pulling over dozens of speeding drivers in rush hour might send a message to others. Accidents will occur, unfortunately, in spite of any barriers or careful monitoring of traffic. But every rational effort should be made so that the next horrendous, cross-median crash on I-97 occurs years -- rather than weeks -- from now.

Pub Date: 9/03/97

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