Dayton fatal crash deadliest of 2016 in Ohio

The scene of a deadly wrong-way crash on I-75 in downtown Dayton Feb. 13, 2016 that killed five people. DeAngelo Byrd/Staff

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The scene of a deadly wrong-way crash on I-75 in downtown Dayton Feb. 13, 2016 that killed five people. DeAngelo Byrd/Staff

A February wrong-way crash on Interstate 75 in Dayton that killed five people was the deadliest crash in Ohio since 2013.

It was among more than 65,000 total crashes on Ohio roadways in 2016 that resulted in thousands of injuries and 1,077 deaths, as of Friday.

Fewer people died in traffic crashes in 2016 than the year before, according to data maintained by the Ohio State Highway Patrol, but the number of fatalities remains above record-low numbers seen earlier in the decade.

Montgomery and Green counties had more fatal crashes than last year.

Related: Complete coverage of I-75 wrong-way crash

The number of fatal crashes in the state has fluctuated over the past decade.

The state patrol reported record-low numbers in 2009 (944 fatal crashes) then in 2011 (942 fatal crashes) and again in 2013 (918 fatal crashes). But both 2012 and 2015 saw the number of fatal crashes jump to more than 1,000, and 2016’s total is likely to be around that threshold.

Final numbers won’t be available until the agency puts out its annual crash facts report, usually in May.

But there is good news statewide and in most local counties, as fatal crashes involving drivers impaired by drugs or alcohol decreased.

The state patrol has made impaired driving enforcement a priority, said Lt. Robert Sellers, public affairs commander for OSHP.

As of Dec. 1, troopers had cited more than 23,000 impaired drivers from Ohio’s roadways — a 4 percent increase over 2015. The Dayton Post increased impaired driving enforcement by 7 percent over 2015, he said.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving Ohio Executive Director Doug Scoles said the numbers are encouraging, but there is still work to be done because Ohioans continue to be killed by intoxicated drivers.

James Pohlabeln, 61, was intoxicated behind the wheel for the second time in 48 hours on Feb. 13, when he drove the wrong way on I-75 and struck a sports utility vehicle killing four young friends: Kyle Canter, 23, of New Carlisle; Earl Miller II, 27, of New Carlisle; Vashti Nicole Brown, 29, of Dayton; and Devin Bachmann, 26, of Huber Heights.

Pohlabeln had reportedly threatened suicide in the past and earlier in the evening. The crash was one of several in the area in early 2016 involving wrong-way drivers possibly on suicide missions.

The trend concerned law enforcement and mental health professionals at the time, especially since wrong-way crashes are difficult to prevent and 100 times more deadly than other types of collisions.

“Unfortunately a large percentage of wrong-way crashes are the result of impaired driving,” Sellers said. “Signage, lighting and better design has helped to reduce some of these crashes, but people making a poor choice to drive after drinking is a problem.”

As of Dec. 1, there were 332 OVI-related fatal traffic crashes in Ohio that killed 365 people, he said. “Each and every one of those crashes could have been avoided if people chose to stay where they were, called a cab, or designated a sober driver.”

MADD Ohio applauds the state patrol and the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s efforts to reduce impaired driving, Scoles said.

“Director (John) Born, he’s adopted a strategy to have highly visible enforcement on the roads and it’s working very well since his tenor as director. We’ve been seeing numbers come down continually,” he said. “That’s a credit to all law enforcement as well.”

Another factor that may have had an impact is the introduction of ride-sharing services in more cities in recent years.

“Having that opportunity, other options if you will, is just great. It’s so easy to use Uber, for example,” Scoles said. “There’s just no excuse for drinking and driving anymore. If you want to get home you certainly can do it safely.”

The state has also increased efforts to do "trace-back" investigations, in which liquor license holders can be found responsible and fined for fatal drunk driving crashes.

For example the Jack Casino, formerly Horseshoe Casino, in Cincinnati could lose its liquor permit Jan. 19 unless its owners pay a $50,000 fine to the Ohio Liquor Control Commission. Ohio Investigative Unit agents cited the casino back in May after a fatal crash investigation revealed that the driver at fault was over-served alcohol at the casino.

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