Researchers and advocates often measure highway safety progress in terms of deaths per population or mile driven, which have declined over decades. But progress has slowed in recent years. Total deaths have increased since a low of 39,250 in 1992.
This issue of Status Report reminds us of the real lives and tragedies behind the statistics. They remind us that, despite progress, crash deaths and injuries still are occurring in predictable ways. They aren't random or inevitable, and we aren't helpless to prevent them.
We should be encouraged by our past successes. Vehicles are more crashworthy than they used to be, and they're being equipped with technologies to prevent crashes in the first place. Laws addressing alcohol-impaired driving and other risky behavior have made a big difference, and roads are designed to be more forgiving when drivers make mistakes.
We need to apply this knowledge more widely. We need to evaluate new vehicle and road technologies that can help with traffic law enforcement. We need to do these things because we should do all that we're able to prevent crash deaths — and because we can.
— Adrian Lund, Institute president
June 7, 2005, 12:05 a.m.
At 5 minutes past midnight, 16-year-old Matthew Sizemore became the first highway fatality of June 7, 2005. Matt was one of 14 teens to die in a crash that Tuesday.
By all accounts a good kid, Matt had just finished his sophomore year at Mooresville High and was looking forward to summer. One of his passions was working on old cars with his dad, Joe. The pair rebuilt a Chevy S-10 pickup that Joe gave Matt for his 11th birthday.
"I was hoping if I gave him a place to put his time and money it would steer him clear of drugs and everything, and it did that," Joe Sizemore says. He started teaching Matt to drive at 13 in hopes of playing down some of the excitement tied to getting a license.
"I thought if I did, it wouldn't be so new to him. He wouldn't be so quick to get out there and torque tires, go fast, and play hard in the cars." Hours before his crash, Matt drove off to see a friend in his stepmother's Hyundai Elantra because his truck needed repairs.
"He should have been home somewhere around midnight," Sizemore says. "At 10 after 12 he wasn't in," but "I wasn't really sweating it too much. At 2:16 I got back up and he still wasn't in. I thought, man, something's not right. I got dressed and went down to a couple of his buddies' houses, and he wasn't there. So I came back home. I went ahead and got ready for work."
Sizemore left for work a little after 5 a.m. and had driven about 2 miles from his house when he spotted fire engines.
"I saw the car upside down," he says. "I asked the fireman, 'He's dead, isn't he?' The fireman asked me who I was, and I said I was his father. So they pulled me to the side. They told me I didn't want to go over there." Sizemore insisted: "I went over and looked at him upside down in the car." It took Sizemore a few moments to recognize him. "I told the cop, 'That's my son. That's Matt.'"
Police said Matt wasn't belted and had been speeding and lost control of the car. He ran off the road and hit at least 4 trees before the Elantra came to rest on its roof. He'd had his license for less than a year.
"They said he was doing well over 90 miles an hour coming down through there," Sizemore says. Matt was one of 19 drivers involved in fatal crashes that day in which speed was a factor.
"Every day you go through knowing he should be there," Sizemore says. "In life we're taught we could possibly bury a sibling. And you expect to bury a parent and a grandparent. You do everything in your power to teach your child right from wrong and teach them decision-making and the consequences of it. Your whole job as a parent is to protect your kid, and I failed. I don't feel like I failed him as far as a father. I feel like I may have failed him by making him a little too comfortable in a car. I mean, that was our thing. We were always around cars."
Bobby Allen Wade
Bobby Allen Wade, 49, had a funeral to get to Tuesday morning, and he'd heard on the 10 o'clock news Monday night that it was going to rain. Slick roads would make the hour-plus trip from his mother-in-law's house in Oklahoma City to his home in Lindsay risky on a motorcycle. Despite protests by his wife, Brenda, Wade set off alone on his 1980 Yamaha ahead of the weather, while Brenda stayed behind to care for her ill mother.
Wade ran into a cow at 60 mph. He was one of 10 motorcyclists killed in crashes on June 7 and among the 4,439 cyclists who died in crashes during 2005.
"It was just one cow in the middle of the road. Right where he was driving," recounts Wade's sister Diane McKee. "He never saw it. No skid marks whatsoever. He had no time to hit the brakes. The cops said he was doing the right speed limit. He just never saw it coming because it was so dark. You have one headlight on a motorcycle."
Wade, who wasn't wearing a helmet, died just 5 miles shy of his home. In Oklahoma only riders 17 and younger are required to wear helmets.
"He was going back home for his friend's funeral who also died on a motorcycle a couple of days before," McKee says. "Otherwise he wouldn't be driving at night."
Wade was a former Marine who worked as a truck driver for an oil company. He and Brenda were married for 28 years and had 2 daughters, a son, and 4 grandchildren.
"He loved to laugh and enjoy life," his sister remembers. "He enjoyed being around family and friends."
She says her brother always made their yearly family reunions entertaining, one year "coming up on his motorcycle with a cage on the back and a rattlesnake in it. We were like, 'What did you bring that here for?' And he was like, 'I just had to show you this snake I caught.'"
Wade especially liked to swim and fish. "If he was anywhere he was in a pond or a lake or a river. He lived right next to the Washita River. All he had to do was go down and check his line. Sit out all night if he wanted," McKee says. "He would have turned 50 that year and that is something we'll never see."
Trucker Larry Joe Freeman, 56, crashed while hauling a load of Little Debbie snacks on Interstate 59 near Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Friends say he was trying to get home in time for his nephew's wedding. Police think he may have fallen asleep at the wheel of the tractor-trailer, which drifted off the shoulder and careened over a guardrail, plunging more than 200 feet into a treed median.
Freeman was the only truck driver to die that day in a big rig crash. Fatigue is a particular problem for truckers (see "Trucker fatigue: 1 of 5 drivers reports falling asleep at the wheel," Oct. 7, 2006).
He was a retired Hattiesburg city firefighter and an inspector when he left the department. For years he worked alongside Hattiesburg Fire Marshal Andy Cartlidge, whose nickname for him was "Honey Bear."
Cartlidge says Freeman trained him as a rookie. "He was something. He helped me out a lot." Outside the fire department the men took on extra work installing fencing.
After Freeman retired from the city, he went to work as a trucker, a natural move for someone who'd spent 20 years driving and operating fire apparatus.
"Larry still had many good years left in him," Battalion Chief David Webster told the Hattiesburg American newspaper. He called the former firefighter "a professional who took his job seriously."
"She grieved over not taking his keys. She should have grabbed his keys, but she trusted him to do the right thing."
Jonathon Gragg, 34, ran a busy painting business that did contract jobs for big builders. Boating and fishing were ways for this soft-spoken "outdoorsy guy" to unwind and spend extra time with his kids.
"He had a very high work ethic," says his older sister, Carla Kearney. "He was really good at faux painting, specialty finish painting. He had really done well. He just had a good business mind."
Gragg died in a single-vehicle crash. The night before he and cousin Donald Collins had installed new struts on Gragg's Pontiac Firebird, which he'd bought after his divorce the year before. Pain from the split was still fresh, his sister says.
The men decided to go to Gragg's mother's bar, about an hour's drive away. Gragg visited with his mother over drinks, and when it was time for him to leave she told him to go sleep at his sister's house next door. Instead Gragg and his cousin decided to head back to Hamilton.
"That's when the wreck happened," Kearney says. "He was driving at an excessive rate of speed. The driver's side hit a tree. He died instantly, and my cousin had minor injuries."
Police say Gragg wasn't belted and had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.20 percent. His estimated speed was 71 mph. Kearney says her kid brother usually didn't drink and drive — or visit the bar their mother owned.
"It was a fluke thing," she says. "The divorce is what devastated him."
Gragg's mother "closed the bar down after that. She grieved over not taking his keys. She should have grabbed his keys, but she trusted him to do the right thing," Kearney says. "There sure is a lot of tragedy that comes from drinking and driving."
Rahway, New Jersey
Harriet Dozier could recite poetry verbatim, says her pastor of 23 years, the Reverend Ronald Green of Greater Mount Mariah Baptist Church in Linden, N.J. The 83-year-old great-grandmother often would share favorite poems at church dinners and during visits to the local nursing home.
"She had a gift," Reverend Green says. "She was a very super lady" with "a great personality. She was in church every Sunday. She was a great missionary and a great Christian. She was the type of person who would do good things without wanting applause for it."
Dozier frequently walked around Rahway doing her errands. The morning she died she was crossing the intersection of Main Street and Milton Avenue, on a walk signal, and had nearly made it over when she was knocked down in the crosswalk by a Lexus SUV.
The 74-year-old man at the wheel told police he didn't see Dozier until his wife pointed her out. Startled, his foot slipped off the brake pedal onto the accelerator, sending the SUV lurching into Dozier, who died of head trauma. She was the second of 8 pedestrians to die that day and among the 4,881 pedestrians killed during 2005.
Ocean Springs, Mississippi
When Cristel Katis, 61, needed to run an errand she usually hopped on her green bicycle. A native of Stuttgart, Germany, Katis never learned how to drive and preferred tooling around on two wheels.
She was headed home from one such errand for T-shirts, socks, and "little stuff" at a nearby Wal-Mart in Ocean Springs when she was hit by a Ford pickup driven by a 75-year-old man. The driver didn't stop until he was pulled over by a police officer who'd witnessed the collision. He claimed not to have seen Katis riding on the side of the road.
Katis was minutes from home, the third of 4 bicyclists to die in a crash that day. In all of 2005, 782 bicyclists died in crashes with motor vehicles.
"She rode up that road hundreds of times," husband Michael Katis says. He learned about the crash from a friend who happened to be nearby and rushed over.
"I could tell immediately she had probably been killed because there were lots of police and ambulances on the scene but no one was attending to her. She was just lying on the ground," Mr. Katis says. A police officer drove him to the hospital to wait for his wife, and Mr. Katis recalls standing outside praying for a miracle. He knew "for sure" she was dead when he saw the coroner.
"This was devastating to me," Mr. Katis says of his wife's death. "I'm still not over it completely. It was horrible. Right afterward I had a hard time. I couldn't even write my name. I'd go some place to buy something and had to write a check, and I could barely scribble out my signature."
Cristel and Michael Katis had been married for 18 years.
Bowling Green, Kentucky
Autumn Lanea Stevens
Seven-year-old Autumn Lanea Stevens was "so full of life," says her grandmother, Carolyn Chism, who helped raise the little girl with the dark hair and green eyes.
"She was into cheerleading, and she made a good little cheerleader. She was just as pretty as she could be. She was going to be a knockout when she was grown," Chism says proudly.
"She loved to camp. She loved to go swimming. She was in gymnastics. She was in Brownies. She even tried to play ball. Whatever her brother does she's got to do."
Autumn was on her way to camp when she died in a rollover crash. She'd been sitting in the back seat of a Pontiac Grand Am alongside her 3-year-old sister, Imagen, and 6-year-old brother, Dakota, with their mother, Shannon Stevens, at the wheel.
Stevens told police that 2 cars behind her were racing each other, and one zoomed past her then braked abruptly as the cars headed into a curve in the road. Trying to avoid a collision, Stevens ran off the road and hit a ditch. Autumn, who had unbuckled her safety belt during the drive, was ejected through the rear window when the Grand Am overturned. Dakota and Imagen were restrained and remained in the car. Both were uninjured. Their mother was cut and bruised.
"It was really, really bad," says Chism, who rushed to the crash site after getting the call from her daughter. "My daughter was covered from head to toe in blood. Shannon heard [Autumn] breathing her last breath."
Autumn was one of 4 people younger than 12 who died as passengers in motor vehicle crashes that day. She was among the 1,519 children who died in crashes during 2005.
Autumn and her brother, whom she called "Bubby," were only 11 months apart in age and "very, very close, like twins," their grandmother says. "When she died he didn't want to talk about her for a long time. Imagen says her sister's up in heaven."
A rising second grader at Lost River Elementary School, Autumn took it upon herself to collect money for Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. She wanted very much to help children with serious illnesses.
"Every time she would get some money she would want to donate it," Chism says. "She was really, really thoughtful about that."
Autumn's family donated her eyes to help two children see.
"That's what she would have wanted because that's the kind of little girl that she was," her grandmother says.
West Covina, California
Pauline and Joseph Janelli
Pauline and Joseph Janelli, both 76, headed a big, close-knit family who gathered together as often as they could. They talked with each of their children on the phone daily and shared dinner several nights a week with whomever happened to drop by their longtime La Puente, Calif., home.
"They were just wonderful people," says daughter Dawn Hines, youngest of the couple's 4 grown children. Others included Debbie, Dori, and Danny. "It's rare to find somebody like them. They were good-hearted to everybody. Nobody was a stranger. The door was always open."
The Janellis were on their way to a medical appointment in the next town over when a Nissan Altima driven by a 23-year-old man crossed the center line and hit the couple's Mercury Marquis head on.
Pauline died instantly, and Joe was airlifted to a hospital, where he died shortly thereafter. Both were using safety belts. The other driver survived but was injured. Police say alcohol wasn't involved.
The couple, who had 6 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren, died about 3 miles from their house, just 2 weeks shy of their 56th wedding anniversary. Hines says that 2 weddings have taken place and another baby has been born since the Janellis' passing.
Their grandkids and great-grandkids miss hearing the couple cheer them on at their tennis matches and baseball and softball games. But the family has found ways to keep Joe and Pauline's memory alive.
"My mom had 4 special rings," Hines says. "We all took 1. We took another, her solitaire, and we made it into a ring that's kind of like 'The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.' We made a special box for it, and each of us siblings passes it around among ourselves to wear. We have to do certain things when we wear it like have a taco night in honor of them." Pauline's tacos were family favorites.
Emily Lopes-Fontes Silveira (top row, center)
Car after crash
Emily Lopes-Fontes Silveira celebrated her 30th birthday on June 4. Three days later the Hilmar, Calif., mother of 3 was stopped in traffic in her Nissan Sentra when she was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer going 53 mph. The impact hurled the Sentra into the path of a Dodge van, which smashed into the Sentra's passenger side. Silveira died instantly.
The trucker told police that he might have dozed off at the wheel for a moment. He'd been on the road since 3 a.m.. After he hit Silveira's car he continued down the road and ran into 2 more vehicles before stopping. This fatal crash was 1 of 9 that occurred that day involving a large truck.
Silveira left behind 2 daughters, 10 months and 2 years old, and a 3-year-old son in addition to her husband, parents, siblings, and extended family. Joe Silveira says life since his wife's crash has been rough. He worries about their children, Anthony, now 5, Lillian, 4, and Sydney, 2. Both grandmothers live nearby, and that's been a big help with the kids, Joe Silveira says.
"A mother's love to a child can't be replaced by anybody," he says. "Dads are good at some things, but they can't give a certain type of love."
Joe Silveira had pillows made from pieces of Emily's clothing. He plans to give them to the kids when they get a little older.
When she wasn't attending to her family, Emily Silveira worked with special needs students at Don Pedro Elementary School.
Having been there for nearly 5 years, she was known for her nurturing spirit and the high expectations she held for her students.
"Emily was loved by all of us and a fantastic teacher," says principal Cheri Gibson. The school dedicated its rose garden to her.
Joe and Emily grew up in the same California neighborhood and married in 1995. They waited several years before having their children so Emily could finish up coursework for her first graduate degree. She was one class away from obtaining her second master's degree when she died.
Joe Silveira remembers his wife as a real go-getter, working and taking care of family and going to school. "You start your life with someone and you have your future all planned out," he says. "And then everything totally changes. It's going to be hard forever."
Nicholas Wayne Muska, right
Five friends went to the movies together and afterward piled into an SUV with a 16-year-old boy behind the wheel. Nicholas Wayne Muska and Nicholas James Van Pelt of West, Texas, also 16, and 15-year-old Chelsea Lee Millard of China Spring rode in the back seat of the Ford Expedition. The driver and a 14-year-old girl were in front.
"One of the girls had a curfew, and it was right about 11 o'clock and they were hurrying to get her home so she wouldn't get into trouble," says Tommy Muska, Nick Muska's father, who'd spoken to his son on his cellphone around 10 o'clock that night.
"For some reason they tried to take a shortcut through a small paved road instead of going on the main road," Tommy Muska recalls. "The road turned abruptly, and the driver didn't know it was that sharp of a turn. He was going way too fast. The car flipped on its side. The roof hit a tree right in the back seat and collapsed. When that happened Chelsea got thrown out. Nick stayed inside the vehicle, and Nick Van Pelt was still in too. Nick died instantly. Chelsea died. Van Pelt died a few days later."
None of the teens in the back seat was belted. The 14-year-old girl in the front seat escaped unharmed. The driver had minor injuries. Both were using belts.
"At about 12:45 the West police came to our house and told us that there was an accident and that Nick was involved in it and that he didn't make it, which is the most devastating news that a parent could ever hear. And then that's when our life changed forever. Ours and everybody else's," Muska says.
The 16-year-old driver was charged with 3 counts of criminally negligent homicide, but the charges later were dropped. The boy's unrestricted license meant he could drive with teen passengers in the car and drive at night under Texas' graduated licensing system for young beginners. He was Nick Muska's best friend.
"That's another thing that's so tragic about it," Tommy Muska says. "He has to live with not only killing his best friend but he killed two other kids along with him. That's punishment enough."
At West High School, Nick Muska played baseball, basketball, and ran cross country. He was in several academic clubs.
"Nick was an amazing young person," his father says. "His charm was that he made people feel comfortable. He talked to them, whether you were the prettiest girl in school or not. He was very open and honest with everybody."
Eagle Scout Nick Van Pelt's friends remember him as ever cheerful, with a positive attitude and contagious smile. His confirmation into the Catholic Church would have been the Sunday after the crash. At West High he played football, tennis, and golf. He liked to go to cattle auctions and hang out with his twin, Marie, and 2 other sisters.
Chelsea Millard's friends describe a "million dollar smile" and a "golden heart." She was an outgoing girl who easily made new friends. A rising sophomore at China Spring High School, she was a powerlifter and also played volleyball and basketball.
"Chelsea was the most amazing girl I have ever known. She will be always loved and never forgotten," says friend Amie Kay in a blog dedicated to Chelsea.
"They had 5 kids in that car," Tommy Muska says. "One minute they were goofing off and the next minute Nick's dead. It comes down to too many kids in the car. They're talking and they're listening to the radio. This was 11 o'clock. They were going too fast. A bunch of kids in the car. The odds were just all stacked against them."
Newlyweds Alapkumar Dave, 27, and his wife, Hiral Dave, 24, of Arlington, Texas, were among the last people to die on U.S. roads on June 7, 2005.
Mrs. Dave was at the wheel of a Toyota Camry, just blocks away from their apartment. Her husband was in the front seat. As Mrs. Dave turned left at an intersection, the Camry was broadsided by an intoxicated 21-year-old Marine in a Chevrolet pickup.
The Marine had a BAC of 0.13 percent, and witnesses told police he ran a red light.
The Daves had just moved into an apartment and were starting to make a new life together, says Rosie Bush, a marketing associate for Pavilion Apartments.
Twenty-five minutes after the Daves' crash, 31-year-old David Ewald ran his motor scooter into the side of a tractor-trailer in nearby Fort Worth. He was the last person to die in a crash on June 7, 2005.
These 60 people died in crashes on June 7, 2005. So did 59 others.
- Matthew Steven Sizemore
- Bobby Allen Wade
- Manuel J. Rascon
- Larry Joe Freeman
- Jonathon Gragg
- John Roth
- Mason Garrett Presley
- Christopher Bello
- Loveth Yvonne Shaw
- Robert Joseph Sanders
- Anna L. Carvin
- Justin David Hinchcliff
- Harriet Dozier
- Orville Burr
- Jack Web
- Michael P. McConnon
- Douglas James Prokosch
- Cristel Katis
- Mary Bridget Portley
- Mary Millie Lopez
- Autumn Lanea Stevens
- David Allen Rodden
- Joseph Arthur Janelli
- Pauline Eunice Potter Janelli
- Gill De L'Etoile
- Christina Lynn Fowler
- Danielle Fowler
- Felicia Donyea Fowler
- Barbara M. Mergel
- David Reis
- Michelle Dawn Amos
- Lillie Beatrice Holmes
- Oston L. Holmes
- Emily Lopes-Fontes Silveira
- Tyler Edwards
- Burificacion Aberin
- Leticia De Mesa
- Tilicia DePardo
- Luz Pardo
- Brian Barkovich
- Eli Fisher
- Loretta Alderink
- Maria Cordova
- Wayne W. Heater Jr.
- Glenn Perry Withrow
- Michele L. Weiterschan
- Trevor Richard Dicks
- James Ernest Gonzalez
- Lawrence R. Whitford
- Ignatius Chukwuka
- Ifeoma Chukwuka
- Tommy Bowden
- Kaylee Haneline
- Efrain Valentine
- Nicholas Wayne Muska
- Cheslea Lee Millard
- Nicholas James Van Pelt
- Alapkumar Dave
- Hiral Dave
- David Ewald
Number of crash deaths hour by hour on June 7
Closer look at the crash toll, one day reflects a year of fatalities
The 119 people who died on U.S. roads on June 7, 2005, perished in 102 crashes across 34 states. The toll began at 12:05 a.m. in Indiana and ended at 11:55 p.m. in Texas.
June 7 was the day with the average number of crashes for 2005. Pick any day of the year and you'll see a similar mix of crash types involving unrestrained children, teenage drivers and passengers, elderly pedestrians, and risky vehicles such as motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles.
This special Status Report shares the stories of 15 people who died that day and lists names of 45 others. Status Report talked with victims' friends and families to personalize the statistics and illustrate the devastating impact.
"Crashes are so complicated, so many factors are involved, and so many things can go wrong — do go wrong — that we'll never get to the point where there are zero crash deaths," says Anne McCartt, Institute senior vice president for research. "But if you look closely at the deaths on June 7, you see that none of the people in these stories had to die. We know how to prevent most crash deaths. We just don't always apply what we know."
Allan Williams, formerly the Institute's chief scientist, points to the "tendency to blame victims for their deaths and view crashes as the cost of motor vehicle travel. This obscures more effective efforts to address the problem. Another thing is that crashes seldom claim the lives of more than one or two people at a time, so they rarely attract the national attention that could help convince policymakers that this problem is a serious one."
The people profiled in this Status Report are all more or less like any of us. Some of them made mistakes. They may have overestimated their driving skills and underestimated the likelihood they would get in a crash, let alone cause one. The risk factors that contributed to their crashes are familiar — speeding, alcohol, fatigue, inattention, and red-light running. Sometimes they weren't using belts. But many people who died on June 7, 2005, didn't necessarily do anything wrong.
Most people who died on June 7 were in passenger vehicles. Sixty-three were drivers, and 27 were passengers. Also killed were 10 motorcyclists, 8 pedestrians, 4 bicyclists, 3 riders on all-terrain vehicles, and 1 truck driver. People from every decade of life were involved. At 20 months, Kaylee Haneline of Florida was the youngest person killed, and 92-year-old Mary Millie Lopez of West Virginia was the oldest.
In all of 2005 a total of 39,189 crashes claimed 43,443 lives — the largest number of motor vehicle deaths since 1990. Daily death counts during the year ranged from a low of 67 on February 17 to 197 on June 25. One hundred or more people died on 272 of the 365 days.
Deaths across the U.S.: crash deaths state by state
102 fatal crashes on June 7, 2005, occurred across 34 states. Texas had the most.
The deadliest hour was 2-3 p.m..