Though Kingsport's 14 traffic fatalities in 2013 are the most seen in a calendar year since 20 deaths in 2005, police say there's little they can do about the overriding factors in such tragedies: poor decisions and habits of motorists themselves.
"While the Kingsport Police Department is actively working to keep Kingsport's roadways safe by enforcing laws, it is truly the driver behind the wheel of each and every vehicle who can make the most difference," said KPD Public Information Officer Tom Patton.
Eleven fatal crashes have occurred within the city limits this year; five on state routes, four on interstate highways and two on municipal streets. According to statistics provided by Kingsport police, six of the 14 victims weren't wearing seatbelts.
Of the 11 individual incidents, four allegedly involved drivers impaired by drugs or alcohol.
One of the incidents with an allegedly impaired driver also resulted in the death of a second driver who was texting. Another fatal crash is attributed solely to a motorist distracted by text messaging. Two of the 11 involved excessive speed, while in another two the drivers suffered medical problems.
One crash was reportedly caused by a driver running a red light, while the most recent traffic fatality is attributed to a pedestrian stepping into the path of a vehicle.
"While there have indeed been several fatal crashes recently, and the overall number of fatal crashes in 2013 has already exceeded the annual total from 2012, there is no discernible pattern as to cause or location," states a news release from the KPD.
"Fatal crash numbers have consistently stayed relatively low for the past seven years. The last time a significant spike in fatal crashes occurred was in 2004 and 2005."
In less than two weeks, four people have been killed in three separate Kingsport incidents.
Elijah Eugene Bear, 62, was struck by a vehicle while attempting to cross Lynn Garden Drive on Tuesday morning. This past Saturday on Fort Henry Drive Melissa A. Lambert, 41, was killed when her car was struck in the driver’s side by another vehicle. Police say the other motorist had run a red light.
On Sept. 14 Dena Marie Riddle, 43, was allegedly driving her Acura 104 mph when it crossed into oncoming traffic on Fort Henry Drive. It struck a Ford Expedition head on, bursting both vehicle into flames. The driver of the SUV, Walter Tony Bellamy, 58, died three days later as a result of injuries.
Patton says those crashes remain under investigation.
Kingsport police ask that the public practice the basics of safe driving, such as buckling up, obeying all traffic laws and avoiding substances that can impair operation of a motor vehicle — including drugs that are legally prescribed. Distractions should also be avoided, says Patton, "especially texting."
Nine people were killed on city roadways in 2012, seven in 2011 and eight in 2010. The all-time high was 21 fatalities in 2004.