Originally created 11/27/03

Holiday traffic helps clog I-20 near border



AIKEN - A hilly portion of Interstate 20 that stretches from Aiken to the Georgia line has seen a growth in deadly accidents this year, South Carolina highway statistics show.

With a confusing chute of multiple exits, heavy construction, tall hills, potholes and sharp curves, the 20-mile stretch of high-speed asphalt has been the scene of three fatal accidents in the past three months, with a fourth person killed in a June crash. No one was killed in this sector last year.

The risk becomes heightened as highways are clogged by holiday traffic - something trucker Rick Chester, 49, factors into his calculations every time he pilots his tractor-trailer through this segment of his long-haul runs.

"I've noticed some accidents on that stretch of road and I always see cars not yielding to trucks and jumping in front of us," said Mr. Chester, a Cedar Grove, N.C., resident who has been driving rigs off and on since the 1980s. "We have to slow down and that can cause some accidents, especially during the holidays."

Statewide, nine people were killed on South Carolina highways during last year's Thanksgiving holiday.

However, the wreck-prone run between Aiken and Augusta can be deadly at any time. On Nov. 11, an 81-year-old woman was killed when her Chevrolet van collided with a tractor-trailer. On Oct. 19, a Columbia man was killed after he was thrown 172 feet from the bed of a pickup. In September, a driver was killed in a three-vehicle crash near Graniteville.

Last year 78 people were injured in 174 wrecks on this 20-mile segment of I-20. According to preliminary data through October, 52 people have been injured in 163 wrecks so far this year.

"I've noticed more potholes recently and people could be trying to avoid them," truck driver Tracy Williamson said. "That could be the cause of some of the wrecks."

Many of the wrecks that occur on the stretch come as nightfall approaches and the rush hour kicks in, according to data from the South Carolina Office of Highway Safety.

However, Lance Cpl. Dwight Green, of the South Carolina Highway Patrol, said he couldn't pinpoint why drivers were having trouble on this stretch of road.

"The area has a lot of collisions but no one area pops out as more dangerous than another," he said. "We have stepped up our enforcement in that area and we are trying to stay pro-active," he said.

Mr. Chester says it all comes down to two things - a heavy foot on the accelerator and a disengaged brain.

"I know a lot of them come from people being in a hurry and they are not thinking," Mr. Chester said. "They need to be smarter drivers."

WRECK ALLEY

The 20-mile stretch of Interstate 20 from Aiken to the Georgia state line is notorious for traffic accidents.

2002

WRECKS: 174

PEOPLE INJURED: 78

PEOPLE KILLED: 0

WRECKS: 163

PEOPLE INJURED: 52

PEOPLE KILLED: 4

Reach Peter G. Gilchrist at (803) 648-1395.