In just 25 hours this weekend, seven lives were claimed in a series of deadly motor vehicle wrecks on area highways.
The accidents made their mark throughout the region: the victims lived in Chattanooga, Sale Creek, Harrison, Dalton, Ga. They died on highways in Hamilton, Marion and Catoosa counties.
Six of the victims — three each in two crashes — were not wearing seat belts. The seventh was driving a motorcycle, traffic officials say.
Seat belts aren’t a guarantee. But the Georgia State Patrol trooper who worked the most recent crash — a horrendous rollover that threw three people out of their SUV, one into the path of an oncoming semi truck — noted that the only survivor was buckled in.
“I can’t sit back here and tell you if they would have lived or died if they had restraints,” said Cpl. Kris Hemphill with Georgia State Patrol. “But the fact that the woman wearing one survived is, in my opinion, a true testament of the seat belt.”
The victims’ names in the Sunday morning crash hadn’t been released by late evening.
Hemphill said the four people were traveling south on Interstate 75 in a Ford Explorer about 5:30 a.m. when the driver lost control near mile marker 343. The SUV rolled several times and traveled 600 feet before coming to rest. All three passengers were thrown out.
A tractor-trailer traveling behind them tried to avoid the debris and struck one of the crash victims lying on the highway. Hemphill said it wasn’t clear whether the occupant had been killed before or after he was struck. Another car hit the Explorer’s battery, causing it to break down.
“Essentially it became a three-car wreck,” Hemphill said. “Debris was all over the place.”
He said there were two men and a woman ranging in ages from 27 to 39. Three were from Dalton, and one was from Chattanooga.
The wreck shut down all southbound lanes of I-75 for more than four hours as investigators marked the scene and a contractor cleaned the grisly remnants off the highway.
The second wreck happened about 8 p.m. Saturday. Christopher Cobble, 30, of Harrison, lost control of his Honda motorcycle on state Highway 58 and crashed into a culvert, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office said.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol said alcohol was involved in the fatal Marion County crash.
A Jeep driven by Eric D. Blevins, 37, of Chattanooga, went off Big Fork Road in a curve about 4:20 a.m. Saturday. The Jeep rolled and the passengers — his 24-year-old wife, Annie; Nicholas “Scott” Clayton, 20, and Emily Clayton, 21, both of Sale Creek — were thrown out and trapped under the vehicle.
Blevins survived and was airlifted to Erlanger hospital.
Investigators believe another vehicle may have been involved and are seeking anyone who may have more information about the wreck.
The police report said seat belts wouldn’t have made a difference
“They may not have helped the victims in this case, but buckling up its the most effective way to prevent injury or death,” said Tennessee Highway Patrol spokeswoman Dalya Qualls.
Qualls said the number of traffic fatalities in such a short span of time is very rare.
Though she said more motorists are on the road during summer holidays, state statistics are inconclusive about what season is the deadliest on the road.
Hemphill said troopers work deadly wrecks every season
“Summer doesn’t necessarily mean more wrecks,” he said.
“Ones like these are rare, thank God,” he added. “I can’t remember the last time we saw this kind of mayhem from a crash.”