Local agencies band together to combat ‘unprecedented’ number of fatal crashes

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- The Piedmont Triad has lost 14 community members due to car crashes in a nine-day period; and law enforcement agencies are calling it an "unprecedented" spike in fatalities.

"I do not remember a period of time that we had this many losses in such a small time frame," said Capt. Jeff Watson of the Winston-Salem Police Department.

In an effort to stop the deaths, members from eight agencies – on both the local and state levels – held a joint press conference at the Winston-Salem Public Safety Center.

"You get your best law enforcement when they work together and we have come together for this problem," said Sgt. Richard Simmons, of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.

Of the 14 deaths, nine victims were ages 20 and under.

"These lives are, and were, our future," said Winston-Salem Police Chief Barry Rountree.

Investigators say the seven crashes, all between Nov. 22 and Nov. 30, displayed some common themes. Each of the fatalities were a result of either distracted driving, speeding or impaired driving. They say speed was a factor in six of the seven crashes and in at least five of the accidents victims were not wearing a seatbelt.

"If you're unrestrained, you're going to be going the same speed that vehicle was when it crashed, it all boils down to physics," said Don Nail, director of the N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Program.

With the holiday season in full swing, troopers are anticipating high volumes of holiday travelers. Therefore, they will be increasing patrols and checkpoints, in an effort to cut down on speeders and seatbelt violations.

"If we do the right things and we educate and get the people to start wearing their seatbelts, slowing down and put the fear that you may get caught if you get out here driving and drinking then maybe we can alleviate some of these problems that we're having now," said Simmons.

To raise awareness amongst teen drivers, troopers have been visiting driver's education classrooms.

"We're having troopers go and speak to these classes and teach them of the dangers with things that they're going to be facing," said Sergeant Simmons.

Yet, officials say important lessons about the dangers of the road should be taught at home.

"Every time she leaves the house; put your seatbelt on, put your seatbelt on, every time," said Sgt. Robert Peterson, of the Winston-Salem Police department. "The same thing as 'I love you,’ you're leaving the house, put your seatbelt on."

Peterson added that parents must also lead by example, saying, "You're riding down the road - you're not wearing yours - why should they?"

Troopers say they are also using unmarked vehicles in an effort to stop the fatalities. They have acquired a Department of Transportation vehicle to ride in, so troopers can stay undetected while looking for violations.

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