HENDERSON — Since last October, the Mason County Sheriff’s Department has been strictly enforcing the posted speed limits on U.S. 35 and W.Va. 2, with funding help from the West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety program.
During that time, the sheriff’s department has issued 323 citations for speeding along these targeted highways, with four felony arrests, 11 misdemeanor arrests and 26 drug arrests as a result of the increased enforcement.
“There have been no fatalities (on U.S. 35 or W.Va. 2) since the target enforcement began,” Beau Evans, of the governor’s highway safety program, said.
He added this is “quite remarkable” considering there were a few fatalities just prior to the target enforcement and there have been four fatalities so far this year in another part of his region, which includes Cabell County.
Sheriff Greg Powers spoke with members of the media Tuesday about the enforcement initiative, saying one of the issues concerning speed and distracted driving on U.S. 35 has been the 14.6-mile stretch that goes from four lanes to two. Powers said some of those not familiar with the road tend to drive like they are still on a four-lane highway.
“Some of the posted speed limits along the roadway vary from place to place,” Powers said. “In some sections where the speed limit is posted at 45 miles per hour, our deputies have clocked individuals driving in excess of 90 miles per hour.”
Evans said both W.Va. 2 and U.S. 35 are major trucking routes with heavy daily traffic volumes. Many local residents and thousands of out-of-state travelers use these roadways daily. In addition to the speeding motorist, the fact that U.S. 35 drops to two lanes shortly after entering West Virginia from Ohio has caused numerous crashes. Unfortunately, many drivers continue to drive at speeds that are unsafe on these segments of the roadway, according to a statement from the highway safety program.
“We’ve been able to slow a lot of that down by doing speed and aggressive driving enforcement,” Powers said, adding the deputies in his department are paid overtime to do this enforcement through the grant from the Governor’s Highway Safety program.
This means that “overtime” money doesn’t come out of the department’s regular budget, allowing for more highway safety coverage without putting an additional financial burden on the county to pay for it.
Also speaking to media on Tuesday was Deana Spaulding, mother of the late Andrea Bailes who was killed when a drunk driver slammed into the vehicle in which she was riding in 2011, killing the 14-year old. Andrea would’ve graduated from Point Pleasant High School this year. Spaulding spoke while Ellie Andrick, a sixth-grader at Point Pleasant Intermediate School, held a photo of Andrea. Andrick is one of several members of “Andrea’s Army” which promotes awareness of the dangers of drunk driving.
Spaulding told those gathered, U.S. 35 and W.Va. 2 were two of the most dangerous roads she could think of in the area. She talked about the factors of driving under the influence, distracted driving and speeding, and how enforcement of these violations helps realize a common goal — saving lives.
Chief Deputy Dave Downing, also at the event, was the resource officer at PPJ/SHS when Bailes was killed. He said drunk driving is something that “never needs to happen.”
Due to the large number of crashes and injuries throughout the previous year, the Huntington Regional Office of the West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety program awarded the sheriff’s department highway safety funds to conduct the overtime patrols throughout the 12-month grant period. The next phase of the enforcement began Tuesday.
Reach Beth Sergent at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.