Markers show crashes' toll

On Mountain Road in Pasadena, drunken driving casualties persist

December 07, 2007|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,SUN REPORTER

The crosses and spray-painted signs mounted in two neighboring front yards on Mountain Road in Pasadena each mark a tree struck last week by an out-of-control Dodge Ram pickup.

By the time the pickup stopped on Nov. 29, the driver, Jason Coburn, 20, and his passenger, Michael Medura, 19, both of Pasadena, were dead. Police said speed and alcohol were factors in the crash.

The makeshift memorials to the friends are not unique on this stretch of Mountain Road, one of the most treacherous in Anne Arundel County.

Since 2003, there have been eight fatal crashes involving alcohol along the six miles from Route 100 to Gibson Island. Coburn and Medura were the ninth and 10th people to die in such accidents in that time span, killed just two weeks after a 60-year-old pedestrian was struck and killed after leaving a bar.

According to an analysis by Crownsville-based Quality Control Systems Corp., police reports cited alcohol in all but one fatal crash on that road segment in the past four years.

"The specific cluster we've found may indicate a need for additional, effective efforts to deter drunk driving on Mountain Road, such as well-publicized, nighttime sobriety checkpoints," said researcher Randy Whitfield, whose company specializes in statistical analyses using large databases.

Local police say the county's peninsulas pose a challenge for drunken-driving deterrence. Cpl. Wayne Tanis, traffic coordinator for the Anne Arundel County Police's Eastern District, says a Maryland Court of Appeals decision requires drivers to have an alternative route when coming up on a sobriety checkpoint, and there is no way to bypass Mountain Road once a driver is past Woods Road and the Lake Shore Athletic Complex. State police say only saturation patrols are an alternative.

Tanis said that while the incidents are troubling, there aren't any features of the highway that make it particularly unsafe.

"All the traffic travels to one road, but I don't see it as a dangerous road," Tanis said. "It's not because of the roadway -- it's because of the speed and alcohol."

Paul Meley, who has lived on Mountain Road for the past 11 years, said he has seen his share of accidents. Markers memorializing Medura sit in front of a damaged tree in his front yard, and he said he has previously asked for Jersey barriers to prevent errant cars from getting too close to his home.

"I don't want a truck coming through my kitchen, and we've come close a couple times now," said Meley, 60.

With no sidewalks and a slim shoulder, "you take your life in your hands trying to cross the road, too," he added.

In 2006, 268 Marylanders died in alcohol-related traffic crashes on the state's roadways, representing nearly 41 percent of the year's traffic deaths. Despite enforcement efforts, such as sobriety checkpoints and increased DUI patrols, the level of local drunken driving deaths increased from 2005, when 239 alcohol-related traffic fatalities occurred.

At a ceremony this week, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown memorialized the state's victims of drunken driving while calling for safety during what is the deadliest time of year for crashes involving drunken drivers.

A state task force is assessing Maryland's impaired-driving prevention program.

Whitfield, of Quality Control Systems Corp., uses small-scale mapping of accident locations as a tool for injury reduction in motor vehicle crashes. Using GPS data and accident information, he recently mapped county crashes and found that about 39 percent of all crashes in the county involved a driver or fatally injured pedestrian or bicyclist with a reported use of alcohol or drugs.

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