The number of deaths on Portage County roadways in 2016 decreased substantially over the previous year, according to county law enforcement officials and traffic safety advocates.
Fourteen people died in 12 crashes between January and September 2016, according to the Portage County Safe Communities coalition, which tracks statistics and causes related to fatal crashes.
No one died on Portage roadways in October, November or December, the first time in several years that has been the case, according to safety advocates.
Twenty-two people died in traffic crashes in Portage County in 2015, the highest number in at least eight years.
Victims in the fatal wrecks in 2016 ranged in age from 6 to 74. Fifty percent of crashes were caused by drivers not staying in their lanes, while one-third of all the crashes involved vehicles that left the roadway entirely. Five fatal crashes involved drivers impaired by alcohol or drug use.
Ten crashes were the fault of male drivers, and two were caused by female drivers. Three fatalities involved motorcycles.
The lowest number of deaths on Portage County roads since the Ohio Highway Patrol began keeping records in 1965 was eight in 2014. Before that, it was 11 fatalities in 2009.
Numbers don't tell the whole story, however, and statistics likely won't comfort you "if you are the family of the one who was killed," said Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci, who serves on Portage County Safe Communities' Fatal Review Board.
The coalition --- made up of state, county and local law enforcement agencies, health and safety organizations and local businesses -- is funded by state grants and is required to conduct Fatal Review Board meetings for any quarter of a given year in which a fatal crash has occurred.
Felony drunken driving prosecutions were down in 2016, with 19, Vigluicci said. Under Ohio law, a drunken driving offense --- also known as an OVI --- is a felony when a driver has four drunken driving arrests/convictions in six years, six arrests/convictions in 20 years or a prior felony OVI.
His office prosecuted 25 such cases in 2015, he said, leaving 2016 with a "very substantial reduction in felony OVI charges."
Overall, 1,478 defendants were prosecuted on misdemeanor and felony OVI charges in 2016, Vigluicci said. That's a slight decrease from 2015, when 1,492 misdemeanor and felony OVIs were filed.
Vigluicci's office still is reviewing a September 2016 crash on Route 14 in Ravenna Township in which a 6-year-old Berea boy and his 34-year-old father were killed when their Kia sedan was struck head-on by a military Humvee. No drugs or alcohol were involved in that crash, he said.
"We had some terrible tragedies on the road in 2016," Vigluicci said.
He said awareness of the consequences of drinking and driving, the increased social unacceptability of such behavior, increased seatbelt usage and safer vehicles have helped cut the number of fatal crashes in the U.S. over the past few decades.
The incidence of drivers arrested for being under the influence of illegal narcotics such as heroin or prescription painkillers while driving has, meanwhile, increased in recent years, according to Vigluicci.
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4154