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Kansas fatality rate climbing

7/23/2014

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Kansas vehicles are killing pedestrians and drivers at a much faster rate this year compared to a year ago.

At least that's what Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Tod Hileman is seeing, and he's spreading the word in an effort to halt the trend.

As of a week ago, there had been 195 fatality accidents, but no sooner had the words escaped from Hileman's mouth than two more fatalities were reported in northwest Kansas.

At least five more have occurred in Kansas since then.

Another northwest Kansas fatality one was added Tuesday when a 22-year-old Dal Brean Schultz, Grainfield, was killed when the pickup he was driving overturned multiple times shortly after midnight.

The accident was in rural Sheridan County. The vehicle hit an embankment, overturning before coming to rest in the middle of the road.

Three other occupants of the vehicle were injured, and all were taken to the Sheridan County Health Complex in Hoxie. They were identified as Kraig Siruta, 22, Oakley, Emily Vollbracht, 20, Grinnell, and Carollyn Mense, 21, Grinnell.

All four were wearing their seat belts.

Failure to wear a seatbelt, Hileman said, frequently is a contributing factor to a fatality accident.

The fatality rate as of the end of June stood at 184. That compares to 154 fatalities for the same period a year ago.

Hileman said the fatality rate in Kansas consistently has been going down in recent years, down from a high of 780 in 1969.

"We were hitting record lows," he said.

Last year was indeed a record low, when 349 people died in Kansas.

This year, however, motorcycle fatalities are up sharply and pedestrian fatalities are up as well. Vehicle fatalities are up 15 from a year ago.

Hileman is quick to caution that fatality rates are only up for the first six months of year, and might fall back to normal levels in the final months of the year.

But he finds the trend being set disturbing.

He's especially concerned about the pedestrian fatalities, most of which involve alcohol. At least one involved a teenager who might have been distracted by a cellphone as they stepped into traffic.

The motorcycle accidents also are troubling, he said, because most didn't have the proper endorsement on their driver's license.

It's a concern for Hileman, who points to Kansas having some of the best roads in the nation and a relatively high seatbelt use rate.

Drivers of pickup trucks "are especially bad about not using seat belts," he said.

It's unclear exactly why, he said, other than he thinks much of it is a result of pickups being used on the farm.

But, he said, seatbelt use for sport utility vehicles follows close behind.

Northwest Kansas is tops in foregoing the use of seat belts, and that's showing up in fatality crashes.