Another death: Albemarle traffic fatalities rise to 21
In November, after five people died in crashes in less than a week and with 19 deaths for the year, Albemarle was looking at its highest number of traffic fatalities since 2003.
Since then, two more people have died.
The most recent death occurred January 6, more than a week after a 6:30am collision near Western Albemarle High School in the 5900 block of Rockfish Gap Turnpike.
According to Sergeant Darrell Byers with Albemarle Police, Kenneth Eugene Hughes, 77, of Roanoke, was heading east on U.S. 250 in his Nissan Rogue on December 28, when Michael Carson Ragland, driving a tractor trailer, was making a U-turn. Ragland has been charged with failure to yield the right of way, and other charges may be pending, adds Byers.
In 2010, Ragland was found guilty of that same charge in Louisa. Records show he was also convicted of making an improper lane change in Albemarle in 2008.
Initially, medical personnel didn't think Hughes' injuries were life-threatening, says Byers. "We didn't learn about [his death] until after the new year. We learned about it from FOIA requests." The Freedom of Information Act requests came from lawyers, says Byers, who adds that a crash reconstruction team is studying the incident.
Gaetan Fraser, 45, a truck driver from Quebec on his way to Florida with relatives, became Albemarle's 20th fatality December 21 when he swerved to miss a wooden chair in the left lane of I-64 that had fallen off a 2006 Toyota Tacoma driven by Chad S. Ellis, 27, of Charlottesville. Ellis had pulled over, and Fraser's Saturn struck the Tacoma, rolled over, and landed on its passenger side, according to Virginia State Police. Fraser's four passengers were taken to UVA Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries.
Ellis, charged with failing to properly secure a load, goes to court February 7.
Gaetan Fraser's widow, Nathalie Issa, has mixed feelings about the charge. She believes Ellis was negligent– and that he didn't mean for a death to occur, she says in a phone interview from Quebec. "If he has compassion, if he has a normal conscience, he's paying for this," she says.
Fraser and Issa had been married for 27 years. "It was a teenage marriage," she says.
Samuel Antonio Wells, 25, will be in court the same day as Ellis to face reckless driving charges for slamming his Honda Civic into a truck driven by Larry L. Taylor, 59, as Wells entered eastbound I-64 on November 11. The car Taylor was driving in the far left lane rolled three times, and he died at the scene.
And on February 6, Jessica Marie Lewis faces a preliminary hearing for manslaughter in one of the last year's most heartbreaking cases. Lewis, 36, is charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter for the November 10 deaths of her daughter, Amber Leigh Johnson, 20, and Amber's father, Michael Johnson, 40, when the car Lewis was driving slammed into a tree on Half Mile Branch Road near King Family Vineyard in Crozet. Lewis also has a February 7 court date for a DUI charge stemming from the incident.
According to police, the common factors in most traffic fatalities are speed, alcohol, and unworn seatbelts. However, these don't appear in the county's two most recent deaths. Alcohol and speed haven't been cited, and both victims were wearing seatbelts.