Another fatal collision occurs near Bylas

Contributed File Photo: Another fatal collision involving a passenger car and a semi-truck occurred near Bylas on Monday. Seven people died in crashes along the same stretch of highway in February, starting with this crash Feb. 1, which caused a Bulk Transportation semi-truck to become engulfed in flames.

By Jon Johnson

BYLAS – A fatal collision left one driver dead Monday when a Mazda sedan went crossed over the centerline and collided with the left side of a semi tractor-trailer rig near Bylas. 

According to Arizona Department of Public Safety Officer Bart Graves, the Mazda was eastbound on U.S. Highway 70 at about milepost 295 when the vehicle went left of center. The collision occurred at about 12:02 p.m. 

Contributed Photo: This picture shows the devastation from the head-on collision involving an El Paso detective on the Bylas Bridge on Feb. 9.

The driver of the Mazda, Loren Dale Wright, 34, of Bylas, was deceased at the scene. The driver of the semi was not injured. According to the DPS statement, impairment on the part of the deceased driver has not been ruled out.  

Seven people died in collisions along the same stretch of highway in February, starting with three deaths in a head-on collision between an acid truck and a passenger car Feb. 1, followed by the death of an El Paso detective Feb. 9 on the Bylas Bridge, and the deaths of three high school students in the EAC van rollover Feb. 21.

There was also a severe collision near Bylas on Saturday night that didn’t result in a fatality. In that collision, the at-fault vehicle pulled out from a convenience store turning westbound toward Bylas in front of another vehicle. The second vehicle struck the at-fault vehicle and then crashed into a fence. Three occupants of the at-fault vehicle were transported to Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center for treatment, with two ultimately being admitted. The two occupants of the second vehicle were treated at the scene. Troopers are investigating the possibility that driver impairment caused that crash as well.

DPS District Captain, Dean Chase, who covers Graham, Greenlee, and Cochise counties, told the Gila Herald that the DPS is allocating $25,000 – $35,000 to fund overtime shifts for extra patrols on U.S. Highway 70 targeting bad drivers, fatigued drivers, and impaired drivers. DPS Troopers working the same stretch of highway made eight arrests over the weekend. The extra patrols are funded through the middle of May with funds from the DPS and Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. In May, the situation will be reassessed. The extra patrols began this past weekend.

“That many collisions in that short of time in that short of road is unusual for us,” Chase said. “So, we’re going to start addressing it right away in any way that we can to make sure that road is as safe as possible.”

Chase also asked the public for its assistance when traveling and advised drivers to not drive until all passengers were properly wearing their seatbelts. He said some of the fatalities could have been avoided if the occupants were wearing their seatbelts.

“More than half of our fatalities we’re experiencing right now were not wearing their seatbelts,” Chase said.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Three students were declared deceased at the scene of an EAC van rollover Feb. 21.

He also suggested the public practice safe self-accountability and if they see an impaired driver, even if it is a friend or family member, to call 911 and let them know.

“It’s ok to call the police on your friends and family if they’re going to be driving impaired because it’s better that we find them and pick them up – even if they get arrested – before they hurt themselves or somebody else,” Chase said.

The recent tragedies also spurned Graham County Board of Supervisors Chairman Paul David to pen a letter to the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety requesting action be taken. David’s letter requests “an increase of patrolling and DUI enforcement activities along U.S. Highway 70 between Globe and Safford, utilizing DPS, Gila and Graham County Sheriff’s offices, funding and accelerate an emergency safety project to install ground in or painted on centerline rumble strips between Globe and Pima, and to invite tribal law enforcement officers and tribal court judges to uniformly enforce traffic laws for motorists on Arizona state highways irrespective of tribal membership.”

This article was updated at 12:12 p.m. to include statements and information from DPS District Captain Dean Chase.