Two accidents at same spot said due to bad decision making

Saturday, August 13th 2005, 5:42 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Poor decision making was to blame for two fatal accidents at the same place on the Turner Turnpike in as many days and there's no inherent problem with the heavily traveled roadway between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said Friday.

Both accidents occurred at mile-marker 144 in eastern Oklahoma County, about eight miles east of the entrance to the Turner Turnpike, which is Interstate 44. In both cases, drivers tried to cut through a gap in the center median and head back west on the turnpike. Two people were killed in the first accident Wednesday and one was killed in the second accident Thursday.

``People are getting in too big of a hurry and making extremely bad judgment calls,'' said Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lt. Don Stockton, troop commander for the Turner Turnpike.

The accidents occurred about one-third of the way through a 22-mile section of the turnpike in which there are no off-ramps and no legal way to turn around.

Gaps in the cement center median are for emergency and maintenance vehicles and signs warn motorists that U-turns are prohibited.

In the first accident, the two men killed had been assisting another motorist who had broken down on the eastbound side of the turnpike and were heading back to Oklahoma City to get parts to fix the disabled vehicle, Stockton said.

A Highway Patrol trooper had told them they would need to continue east to the next exit and then get back on the turnpike heading west to Oklahoma City, Stockton said. The trooper told them it was illegal to cut through the median. After the officer left, the two men were killed in a traffic accident while attempting the dangerous maneuver.

``They made the conscious decision to disobey the trooper and to violate the law in cutting that center wall,'' Stockton said. ``It cost them their lives. Obviously it's going to affect the people that struck them as well. It's a tragedy of monumental proportions. It could all have been solved or avoided by making a sane, correct judgment.''

In both fatal accidents, the drivers were trying to save about 30 minutes in driving time by making an immediate U-turn rather than going to the next exit and then traveling back west on the turnpike.

``People are leading hustle-bustle type life styles and sometimes they make more and more bad decisions,'' Stockton said.

Tim Stewart, deputy director of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, said turnpikes are designed to have long sections without exits and entrances.

``If you put multiple locations of entry, you diminish safety and create a lot of weaving and traffic patterns,'' Stewart said. ``Entry is limited to where it is really needed by traffic volume.''

Brandon Daniels, 33, of Yukon died in the second accident. His car was hit by a tractor-trailer rig. Emanuel X. Balwin, 41, of Oklahoma City and Walter Duane Cox, 49, of Lexington died in the first accident. Their car was hit by another automobile.

``My troopers and I will be watching this area,'' Stockton said. ``We may try to spend a little more time in the area and we will take more enforcement action when we see it. We're serious about safety and responsibility.''