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2 killed in area wrecks
Another man dies behind wheel of vehicle, crashes on Athens street

By Seth Burkett · 340-2355

A head-on collision near Athens and an overturned dump truck near Somerville each claimed a life Friday, state troopers said.

When emergency responders arrived at the collision scene on Alabama 99 about one-half mile northwest of Athens shortly after midnight, driver Carolyn P. Ragasa, 46, of Lester was already dead.

Ragasa had just left the Athens Wal-Mart, where she worked, when the wreck took place, said Limestone County Coroner Mike West.

Ragasa’s westbound car collided with an eastbound pickup truck, West said state troopers told him.

“She had a lot of blunt force to chest and lower extremities and pelvic area. She was basically trapped in the car from mid-chest down,” West said.

West said the impact that killed her also caused the pickup to catch fire.

Driver James E. Beard, 69, of Toney escaped the burning vehicle. He was taken to Athens-Limestone Hospital and later transferred to Huntsville Hospital, West said.

Beard remained in good condition in a regular room unit late Friday, a Huntsville Hospital spokeswoman said.

Limestone Chapel Funeral Home will announce arrangements for Ragasa.

Friday afternoon, troopers investigated another wreck that killed a Joppa man.

His southbound dump truck overturned on Alabama 67 near St. John’s Road, about five miles south of Somerville, at about 12:40 p.m., state troopers said.

The crash ejected David Lamare Malone, 58, who apparently drove the truck for a dairy.

Deputy Coroner Mack Beard said responders found Malone lying beside the truck, which had left the roadway and overturned in a ditch. Blunt force trauma to his chest killed him, Beard said.

Arab Memorial Funeral Home will announce funeral arrangements.

State troopers said Malone, Ragasa and James Beard were not wearing seat belts at the time of the accidents.

The death of another driver in Athens on Friday turned out not to be a result of his wreck, but rather the cause of it, police said.

Athens police officer Brandon Turner said a 73-year-old Athens man driving west on Pryor Street died from an unknown medical condition and wrecked into a guardrail and fence.

There was minor damage to the vehicle and property, Turner said.

“He was dead before he wrecked,” Turner said. “His wife was riding with him. She said he had some kind of medical emergency and then the car left the road.”

The wreck occurred near Houston Street at 2:10 p.m.

Turner identified the driver as Earl Knappenberger.

More than 1,200 people died on Alabama highways last year, the highest number since 1973.

The Alabama Department of Public Safety’s preliminary reports show at least 1,208 deaths on state roads in 2006, The Birmingham News reported on Friday. State officials believe the final tally will be about 1,240 once all cities and counties have submitted numbers.

The highest number of deaths on Alabama highways was 1,251 in 1971, 16 more fatalities than were recorded two years later.

“We haven’t broken 1,200 since then,” DPS statistician Bill Shanks said. “And there are still more out there.”

Public Safety Director Col. Chris Murphy said he hopes to reduce that number by putting more troopers on the road, moving officers into new assignments and using new technology.

“The one single thing that we can do is keep more officers on the road for them to be a deterrent. In that, we are making some progress,” Murphy said.

There were sizable increases in deaths on rural roads — from 791 in 2005 to at least 835 last year — and in motorcycle accidents. There were 76 reported deaths involving motorcycles, up from 59 a year earlier.

Murphy said the department’s 17 post commanders and other officials will review the highway crash data to find ways to cut down on the deaths.

“This information does not go in a file,” he said.

Murphy said he has reopened posts in Gadsden, Eufaula and Grove Hill to reduce the number of rural fatalities.

The number of drivers in the state rose 18 percent from 1995 to 2005, which was among factors impacting the numbers, he said.

Transportation Director Joe McInnes said his staff studies highway death reports daily to find ways to reduce the death rate, including lowering speed limits in areas where a number of fatalities occurred.

“We do not do this in a cavalier manner,” he said. “We do it where it makes sense.”

McInnes’ department is spending $50 million to widen rural two-lane roads, where most of the state’s fatal wrecks occur. McInnes said the department has spent $15 million to install median dividers along interstates and is seeking another $5 million for adding troopers “at high-risk locations.”

The Associated Press and Decatur Daily staff writer Holly Hollman contributed to this report.

Copyright 2005 THE DECATUR DAILY. All rights reserved.
AP contributed to this report.

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