RALEIGH — The state insisted Wednesday that an education campaign will save more lives than additional barriers on bridges like the I-440 structure spanning Crabtree Creek where two good Samaritans have died after stopping to assist accident victims.
A state Department of Transportation study, which examined more than 13,000 bridges and analyzed crash reports, found that 73 good Samaritans have been injured and 21 killed throughout the state since 2000. The study showed four sites where people have accidentally fallen from bridges. It is unknown how many of the good Samaritan deaths and injuries could have been prevented had the helpers taken proper safety precautions.
"The root of the problem is more along the lines of people on their feet having to escape a vehicle," said Terry Gibson, the state highway administrator. "That's why I feel this direction is the way to go. We don't want to discourage people from being good Samaritans, but we want them to be safe."
The DOT says it is developing a communication strategy that could include distributing fliers to schools and driver's education programs.
It is also asking its Incident Management Team to develop strategies to increase awareness about the dangers of stopping to help on major roads. The teams are made of made of DOT engineers, firefighters and local law enforcement that are scattered throughout the state.
"People jumping off of bridges happens very rarely," said Greer Beaty, DOT's director of communications. "When people stop, that's where the danger is. We will be going through the media and doing whatever it takes to get the word out."
The study, released Tuesday, was conducted in the wake of the death of Lee Eames Jr., 33, of Willow Spring, late last month. He was the second person to misjudge the gap between the I-440 inner and outer beltline bridges after dark and fall to his death.
New fence planned
The state will build a fence on the side of the bridge where Eames fell to match a fence on the other side that was erected after Todd Fletcher fell to his death there in 2005. State DOT officials say it should be done in February.
But there are two other bridges on the Beltline with gaps of similar size. Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said if the DOT won't fix those bridges, too, the city would request to fix them on its own.
"I still want something to be done to the other bridges," Meeker said.
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