Group seeks to reduce local traffic fatalities

Safe Communities, an organization dedicated to preventing traffic deaths in Ohio, held an organizational meeting last week at the Clermont County Sheriff’s Department.

Led locally by Martha Enriquez, Safe Communities is a program funded by the Ohio Department of Public Safety that currently targets some of the state’s highest traffic fatality areas.

“It’s in about 35 Ohio counties, not all of them have it,” said Enriquez. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword. It’s good to get the grant and be able to use it, but if you’ve received it, it means you have too many fatalities. It’s given to areas with higher population, and hence more fatalities.”

Through the grant, Enriquez works locally to organize and fund prevention efforts, such as school assemblies and other programs that encourage drivers to be safer on the roads. Driving safely, wearing seatbelts and avoiding alcohol while driving are three of the staple messages of the program and continue to be a focus of the efforts in Clermont County.

“It’s aimed at reducing traffic fatalities,” said Enriquez. “This is an education component – law enforcement does the enforcing. I try to work with high schools and do programs for teen drivers. I’ve done a lot of presentations to older adult drivers. We also do work with seat belts, counting them to establish usage rates in Clermont County. We work with juvenile court and all of the law enforcement agencies, and we also are the local component to help with larger programs, like

‘Click it or Ticket.'”

During the meeting, members of the local effort, such as local government officials and members of local law enforcement, spoke about issues concerning both traffic problems in the area and ways to help Safe Communities get the word out.

Specifically, two special presentations were made at the meeting, including one from a local organization that has worked for years to prevent teen deaths from driving accidents.

C.L.I.C.K., an organization from Goshen, presented a video they produced to air in local schools concerning four teenagers who were killed in an auto accident several years ago.

On Aug. 12, 2002, Jennifer McRoberts, Jessie King, Natasha Schnelle and Lester Smith died when the car they were in spun out of control and hit a tree.

The video included messages from highway patrol members who were on the scene of the accident, as well as a video montage of pictures showing the four teens from birth until shortly before their deaths. Kim Schnelle and Kathy McRoberts, parents of two of the teens, were there to present their video.

“We put together a video we’ve been showing to kids in school,” said Schnelle. “Our children were killed in 2002. We put this together so people know that this is real and could happen to them.”

“We show this to kids when we go to programs and schools,” added McRoberts. “We’ve been different places, and this shows our kid’s lives. It seems to be pretty effective.”

Ohio State Highway Patrol Batavia Post Commander Lt. Paul Hermes, who was featured in the video, discussed accidents in the county so far this year, saying that Clermont has had 15 deaths this year. The local OSHP goal, he said, is to keep it there and have even fewer deaths next year.

“Talk to your friends, tell them to take their time and be safe,” said Lt. Hermes. “You’re not saving that much time by driving faster, so maybe we can keep our family and friends with us.”

Lt. Hermes said that fast and reckless driving seemed to account for the majority of accidents in Clermont County. About half of the deaths this year, said Lt. Hermes, involved motorcycles, which prompted the invitation of ABATE, or American Bikers Aimed Towards Education.

John O’Quinn, local ABATE representative, said that his organization is working to increase safety for all drivers, not just motorcyclists.

Efforts to this end include a driver’s education course designed to help new drivers understand how motorcycles share the road with cars.

“We remind these young teen drivers about the importance of sharing the road with motorcycles and to look or motorcyles,” said O’Quinn. “That’s our biggest problem, inattention. They need to know to respect our space.”

For more information about Safe Communities, call (513) 735-8409.