Memorial Day proving deadly on state roads and lakes

Monday, May 29th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

While hundreds of Oklahomans drove, cooked, shopped and relaxed to mark the opening of the summer season, a World War II veteran's family sought to close the chapter on locating his remains.

"We had a record crowd," said Sue Hughart, manager for Fountainhead State Park in Eufaula. "Revenue-wise, we probably did
25 percent better."

The park has 91 recreation vehicle sites. They were full Friday night and had only two openings Saturday, Hughart said.

"I think a combination of weather and mainly a major increase in the quality of facilities available at state parks" are why more people are visiting, she said.

"The state parks are better kept, better maintained."

The average price of $1.45 a gallon for regular self-serve gasoline is 42 cents higher than last Memorial Day, but at least 11 percent of Oklahomans were still expected to travel at least 100 miles.

The crush of motorists may have led to a higher death toll. As of early Monday afternoon, 12 people had died on state roads, and at least one person was missing after falling off a boat on Lake Texoma, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol reported.

Meanwhile, the family of Arnett resident Donald J. Gott, the first Oklahoman awarded the congressional Medal of Honor during
World War II, still awaited word on whether the discovery of his dog tag near the spot where his B-17 bomber crashed in 1944 meant
his remains were nearby.

Gott stayed in his bomber with his co-pilot because a crew member was too wounded to jump. The plane exploded before crashing,
making recovery of the remains hard.

Gott and co-pilot 2nd Lt. William E. Metzger Jr. of Lima, Ohio, were given the Medal of Honor for staying with the airplane.

Willis "Sam" Cole Jr., a historian and military buff, telephoned Gott's niece, Pat Gann, from France with news he had found the dog tag.

"This put a close to something," Gann said. "Sam has been working on this for so long, and to finally find the truth, it's really nice."

Cole told The Daily Oklahoman he made the discovery last week. He said he believes the remains of the other two crew members who
were killed in the Nov. 9, 1944, crash also are at the site.

"I was cleaning the ground, and I found the dog tag," Cole said. "Then in a pile of dirt that had been dug up by someone, I found a piece of skull."

Cole notified the U.S. Army Mortuary Affairs Center to report his discovery.

Another family awaited word on a loved one Monday.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol continued to search for an unidentified man who fell overboard a boat 1 mile north of the High
Port Marina on Lake Texoma in Texas. Authorities believe, however, the man drowned in Oklahoma water.

The weekend also proved deadly on state roads, with 12 people dead as of early Monday afternoon.

"The Memorial Day weekend is always the first or one of the biggest holidays of the year," Lt. Stewart Meyer, a spokesman for
the patrol, said Monday. "With the influx of people, there's always the possibility you'll have more crashes."

Among those dying was a 16-year-old Earlsboro girl, who was thrown from the back of a pickup truck as the vehicle negotiated a
sharp curve on a Seminole County road near Seminole, the patrol said.

Veronica Duggan was pronounced dead on arrival at Seminole Medical Center after the 12:46 a.m. accident. The driver and three
other occupants in the truck weren't injured.

"Of the 12, one was a pedestrian, one was on a motorcycle, one was thrown out of a the back of a pickup and nine others were in
motor vehicles," Meyer said.

"Of those nine, eight weren't wearing safety belts."

Meyer said in a least one of the nine vehicle accidents, one person was ejected.

"Seat belts always have been considered a device to help people stay in vehicles when a crash occurs."

The motorcycle accident involved a 34-year-old Vici man.

John D. Kershner was killed just before 11:30 p.m. Sunday when his motorcycle failed to negotiate a curve on U.S. 60 and left the road. The motorcycle flipped in the air.

Kershner was pronounced dead at a Woodward hospital.

Troopers are concerned because the 12 deaths ties the number of deaths in 1999. That is still below the 16 reported traffic-related
deaths during the 1998 holiday weekend.

The patrol also was keeping an eye on Oklahoma lakes. In addition to the missing boater, a woman was hurt when a boat's
propeller hit her while she was out on Lake Arcadia.

Highway Patrol Second Lt. Jim West said the biggest problem on the lakes has been with people taking their boats out on the water
for the first time this year without checking to make sure they're lake-worthy.

"We watch people closely to make sure they have life jackets and fire extinguishers" on board their boats, West said.

Having an insufficient number of flotation devices can carry a fine of about $100, he said.