Law enforcement continues to make US 10 corridor safety a priority.

July 25, 2017

Law enforcement continues to make US 10 corridor safety a priority.

#MasonCountyNews #US10

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

Two weeks ago, our community lost two of its citizens in a fatal traffic crash on the US 10 five-lane highway (known as the US 10 corridor). A husband and wife, riding on a motorcycle, were killed after a motorist attempted to make a left turn out of a restaurant driveway.

Any type of serious crash tends to generate a high volume of public comment on social media. People’s emotions are naturally stirred by such devastating news and the public wants answers on how to solve the underlying cause.

Though it may be hard to believe in the wake of such a devastating crash, the 7 mile stretch of highway between Ludington and Scottville, which includes US 10 and also a portion of US 31, is actually a safer highway than it was five years ago.

Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole made a campaign promise, when first elected in 2012, to make the US 10 corridor a safer road and for the most part, he has been making headway to accomplishing that goal. Cole says in order to address highway safety you must have enforcement, engineering, and education, “the three Es”.

Sheriff Cole has been a law enforcement officer for over 30 years and has spent many of those years as a certified crash investigator. 

Between 2005 and 2013, there were 64 crashes along the corridor, resulting in seven deaths and 87 people seriously injured. Of those crashes, 22 were the result of head-on crashes that resulted because one of the drivers was attempting to make a left turn; 19 were broadside crashes.

“We live in a fairly safe community,” Cole says. “We do not have a lot of violent crime here, so statistically, a resident or visitor of Mason County has a higher likelihood of dying or being seriously injured as a result of a vehicle crash than any other type of unnatural incident. We in local law enforcement take this very seriously and I knew it had to be addressed.

Cole says highway safety improvements require the ‘Three Es’: enforcement, engineering and education,

“The sheriff’s office and the Michigan State Police have stepped up road patrols on US 10,” Cole says. “And, we have worked with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to change engineering.”

In recent years, left-turn phase signals have been added to the intersections at Brye and Meyers roads, Pere Marquette Highway, and Jebavy Drive. The US 10 intersections with Brye and Meyers roads were once listed as two of the deadliest intersections in Michigan based on the high volume of serious crashes in those areas. Both are major traffic zones that are adjacent to box stores including Wal-Mart, Meijer, and Home Depot.”

The changes have reduced the amount of crashes.

“We recognized specific issues with those crashes and addressed it through the ‘three Es’ and had zero fatals in 2014 and 2015. The amount of serious crashes in general have been reduced as well. However, in 2016 and into 2017, we have seen four fatalities from three crashes. Those four were all driver error and only one of them occurred at an intersection.”

Those crashes included:

  • July 26, 2016: Walter Thomas Bourgette, 77, of Amber Township, was driving east on US 10-31 when the vehicle he was driving was rear-ended by Philip Keilman, 67, of Scottville. Bourgette was preparing to pull into his driveway. According to the crash report, Keilman told sheriff’s deputies that he blacked out. The two drivers, and Bourgette’s passenger, his wife Lillian Bourgette, 72, were transported to Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital. In December 2016, Walter died from his injuries.
  • July 28, 2016: Rosemarie Ohse, 79, of Custer Township was traveling southbound on Brye Road when her vehicle was struck by a westbound vehicle driven by Shane Martin McDowell, 41, also of Custer Township. The vehicles also struck a northbound vehicle driven by Sharon Covarrubias, 41, of Mears. Ohse died on July 30, 2016, as a result of the crash. The vehicles on Brye Road had the green light at the traffic signal. McDowell has been charged with a moving violation causing death, a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than one year and/or a fine of not more than $2,000. He is scheduled to appear in 79th District Court on July 30.
  • July 14, 2017: Branch Township residents Ken and Mary Geurink were riding a motorcycle west towards Ludington when their bike was struck by two colliding vehicles in the 5200 block of US 10, in front of the Mason County Airport. The crash was the result of a motorist attempting to make a left-hand turn out of a restaurant on the south side of the road. Her vehicle collided with an eastbound car that was traveling in the passing lane. The two vehicles than collided with the Geurink’s motorcycle. Ken died on the scene while Mary died hours after the crash.

Cole says an element that law enforcement continues to address is the education component of highway safety. Six of the seven people who died from traffic crashes on the corridor between 2005 and 2013 were all 65-years-old or older (with four of them being 80 or older) and five of those six were at-fault (the seventh was a 14-year-old pedestrian who was killed while walking alongside the road).

“The most recent deaths have involved victims in that age group, however non of them were at fault,” Cole said. In order to address the issue with senior drivers causing serious crashes, law enforcement has reached out to local senior groups, including the senior centers, to discuss safer driving.

“Regardless of the age of those involved, we have to look at the cause of the crashes, whether there is a pattern or not,” Cole says. “We look at perception/reaction, skill levels, speed and whether or not the person is familiar with the road or reacting to conditions.”

One of the common reactions of the public following a crash on the corridor is that the speed limit is too high. The sheriff says speed is determined by the Michigan State Police, which has determined that 55 mph (east of Pere Marquette Highway) and 40 mph (between PM Highway and Jackson Road) are safe traveling speeds.

“Clearly with increased speed you have a greater probability for critical injuries and fatalities,” Cole says, adding that he would not be opposed to decreasing the speed limit between PM Highway and Meyers Road. “But, I don’t know what is reasonable,” he adds. “When you look at the crashes that we have had on the corridor, speed is rarely a factor. With that said, what people need to realize is that 55 mph means 55 mph not 65 or 70.”

Editor’s Note: I drive on US 10 between Scottville and Ludington two to three times a day. The highway between PM Highway and Scottville was widened in the early ‘90s with little regard to proper planning and engineering. In my opinion, the road should have included “Michigan left turns” where a motorist is required to make a U-turn at designated places and right turn lanes, along with access roads with limited curb cuts along the highway (such as the lane in front of the Mason County Fairgrounds). Driving on this stretch of road is dangerous and frustrating when motorists experience a driver make a sudden right turn, or pull across three lanes of traffic to make a left turn. Unfortunately, changing the highway design is highly unlikely as it would require millions of dollars. So, we are stuck with it and must do our best to be more attentive and defensive drivers. Be safe Mason County. 

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