March 2012 Archives

Columbia, Missouri Woman Discovers Jeep in Her Living Room; Driver Still At Large

Missouri Speeding DriverThis week, our Boone County car accident lawyers were shocked and amazed by a news story about a Columbia woman who was visited by a houseguest she wasn't expecting. Rhonda Victor heard a loud noise just after she went to bed on Wednesday , and when she investigated, she discovered a Jeep in her living room.

According to a news release from the Columbia Police Department, an officer had attempted to stop the vehicle for speeding just prior to it crashing into Victor's house. The driver didn't stop, and the officer abandoned the pursuit for safety reasons after following the Jeep for 3 blocks. Immediately thereafter, the officer discovered the vehicle in Victor's living room. The keys were still in the ignition, but the driver was gone. As of this morning, that driver has not been located.

It's unbelievably fortunate that Victor had retired to her bedroom just a few minutes before the Jeep slammed into her house, as she was able to escape potentially critical injuries. Her house, however, wasn't so lucky: Kelley Klean Restoration Company estimates that the damage will cost up to $15,000 to repair.

Had Victor been injured, she would've had a relatively easy time proving negligence, which is a fundamental component of any personal injury lawsuit. Under other circumstances, demonstrating that a party was negligent can be a much more complicated affair.

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Drunk Drivers Face Serious Legal Consequences in Jefferson City & Throughout Missouri

1217438_bar.jpgThis week, the Missouri Highway Patrol's Troop F announced plans for upcoming DWI checkpoints and saturation initiatives in Cole and Camden counties. According to Captain Gregory D. Kindle, the checkpoints and saturation patrols will be conducted sometime before the end of March. These efforts are designed to crack down on drunk drivers and prevent the car accidents they so frequently cause. The Patrol "urges all citizens to report any vehicle they observe operating in a careless manner," the news release says. "The public can contact the Highway Patrol toll-free at 1-800-525-5555 or on a cellular phone at *55."

By now, the vast majority of drivers are well aware of the risks and dangers associated with driving under the influence. And yet - as these law enforcement initiatives demonstrate - there are still drunk drivers on the road. If you cause an accident while driving drunk, you will face serious legal consequences. In addition to being sued in civil court by those you've injured, Missouri also has serious criminal penalties for drunk drivers.

First Offense:

• Missouri Criminal Status: Class B misdemeanor.

• Jail: Up to 6 months.

• Missouri Fines/Costs: Not more than $500

• Missouri License Suspension: 30 days.

• Violation of Zero Tolerance Law: 90 day license suspension, attend DUI school and pay fines.

• Missouri Conditional License: After the 30-day suspension, the driver may receive a 60-day restricted driving privilege. The driver is eligible for full reinstatement after 90 days if all reinstatement requirements are met.

• Missouri DUI School: All DUI offenders must complete a Substance Abuse Traffic Offender Program before having their license reinstated and must pay for a mandatory alcohol assessment / treatment evaluation. First offenders with a high blood alcohol level may have to attend an intensive weekend intervention program. Check with the Substance Abuse Traffic Offenders Program, for more information.

• Missouri Probation: At the discretion of the court.

• Missouri Community Service: At the discretion of the court. None required by law.

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Seat Beats Save Lives in Columbia, Missouri & Nationwide

Thumbnail image for stop_fasten.jpgOur Columbia personal injury lawyers recently blogged about the disturbing increase in Missouri car crash fatalities in 2012. In a news release on this subject, the Missouri Highway Patrol reported that "two-thirds of those fatalities involved people who were not wearing a seat belt." On average, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), "7 out of 10 Missourians killed in traffic crashes are not wearing their safety belts."

Safety advocates (along with MoDOT and the state transportation director) have submitted multiple proposals to change Missouri's seat belt law, making the failure to wear a seatbelt a primary offense. Currently, Missouri statute §307.178 only requires drivers, front-seat passengers, and occupants under age 18 to wear seat belts, and it can only be enforced if the driver is pulled over for another offense, such as speeding, running a red light, or drunk driving. Out of more than 500 state traffic laws, the seatbelt law is the only one with a secondary enforcement provision. Furthermore, safety advocates have encouraged lawmakers to change the law so it requires all passengers - not just those in the front seat or under 18 - to wear seat belts.

According to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), these changes would have a dramatic impact on Missouri roadway safety. The study examined Missouri data (the number of car accidents and the rate of seatbelt use within the state), and compared those figures to data from 32 states with primary seatbelt laws. Within the first year of its passage, the study found, changing the law would have the following effect:

• It would spare an estimated 63 Missouri lives.

• It would prevent 759 serious injuries.

• It would save Missouri $179 million in medical, insurance, and highway expenses (and it wouldn't cost the state a penny).

• It would make Missouri eligible for $16.2 million in funding, under the terms of the highway reauthorization bill (which was approved by the Senate last week). The bill earmarks these funds "for safety initiatives in states that make seat belts a priority."

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Driver Distractions: A Top Cause of Car Accidents in Columbia, Missouri & Elsewhere

IMG_1720_c.JPGToday is a big day for college basketball lovers - and especially for Mizzou fans here in Columbia: it marks the beginning of the NCAA tournament. While the Tigers don't play until tomorrow evening, we know that lots of Missourians follow the entire tournament closely - and with the help of modern technology, you can watch a game pretty much anywhere. There are several apps that offer live updates and streaming game film. While our Columbia car accident attorneys love March Madness, we hope you won't make the mistake of checking your bracket while you're behind the wheel.

By now, most drivers are familiar with risks and consequences of distracted driving, and yet a good number of them continue to engage in distracting behaviors - especially cell phone use. According to the Governors' Highway Safety Association, it's legal for all licensed drivers in the state of Missouri to talk on cell phone while driving. As for text messaging, only drivers under the age of 21 are prohibited from sending and receiving texts at the wheel. In sum, Missouri has some of the most relaxed distraction-related laws in the country.

In 2010, there were approximately 3,100 people who lost their lives on U.S. roadways because of distraction-related car accidents - accidents that are completely preventable with a little bit of driver responsibility. Safety officials strongly recommend that drivers curb as many distractions as possible while operating a motor vehicle. "Inattention is a leading cause of traffic crashes," said Missouri State Highway Patrol Colonel Replogle.

During the first half of 2010, there were nearly 800 Missouri traffic accidents that were caused by distracted drivers: these accidents resulted in nearly 10 fatalities and roughly 240 injuries. To help reduce the risks of distraction-related car accidents, we offer you a few simple rules and safety tips to help increase roadway safety for all drivers.

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Warm Weather Leads to Increase in Columbia, Missouri Motorcycle Accidents

754890_traffic.jpgWinter is almost behind us: in fact, Missouri weather has been almost summer-like this week. The warm months ahead are the biggest time of year for motorcycle riding in Columbia, Jefferson City and throughout the state. It has been speculated that increasing gas prices trigger a corresponding rise in the number of people who use motorcycles for daily transportation. Although it's true that riding a bike is much more energy efficient, motorcyclists are also more likely to suffer serious injuries in the event of an auto accident.

Last Friday marked the beginning of Daytona's annual Bike Week, a 10-day event in that is expected to attract 500,000 motorcycle riders this year. Our Columbia car accident lawyers were saddened to hear that there have already been reports of at least 4 motorcyclists killed in separate collisions - including one rider from Neosho, Missouri. The accident happened today in Flagler County, Florida: 39 year-old Diana Sallee was a passenger on a Harley Davidson that collided with 2 non-moving vehicles. Local law enforcement reports that a Chevrolet Suburban and another motorcycle were stopped in the roadway while waiting to turn left into a state park: it appears that the Harley's driver, 38 year-old Billy Sallee (also of Neosho), simply failed to see them

Billy Sallee only sustained minor injuries in the collision, but Diana Sallee was ejected and thrown under the Suburban. She was taken to a nearby hospital by ambulance, but she later died as a result of her injuries. Both riders were wearing helmets. The Florida Highway Patrol is currently awaiting toxicology results for Billy Sallee: depending on those results, he may face criminal charges.

Even with a helmet, riding a motorcycle can be considerably more dangerous than driving a closed vehicle (like a car, van or SUV). One of the biggest dangers to motorcyclists is that other drivers often fail to see them. Drivers of cars and trucks are reminded to share the road with motorcyclists (and their vehicles aren't always as easy to spot). When making a turn, it's important look carefully for any motorcycles that might be oncoming, in the lane next to you, or in the lane you are turning into.

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SUVs Protect Drivers Involved in Columbia Car Accidents

755533_suv.jpgIn the past, drivers were warned against purchasing SUVs, as they reportedly had a high risk of being involved in a rollover accident. That's no longer the case: in fact, drivers of SUVs are now much safer than those in cars, according to USA Today. Drivers of these vehicles are now among the least likely to die in a car accident in Columbia and elsewhere in the country.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) now reports that because of a new technology, electronic stability control, SUVs now receive much higher safety ratings. Electronic stability control utilizes the vehicle's braking system and engine power to help keep these large vehicles on the roadway -- often preventing skids or rollover accidents. After its implementation, the death rate for SUV drivers dropped nearly 70%, from 82 deaths per million vehicles in 1999 to 2002 models to 28 deaths per million in 2005 to 2008 models.

"The rollover risk in SUVs used to outweigh their size/weight advantage, but that's no longer the case," says Anne McCartt, the institute's senior vice president for research. "It's a dramatic change and a testament to the incredible effectiveness of electronic stability control."

This trend has taken shape even as more motorists switch to smaller cars amid concerns about higher gas prices. According to Erich Merkle, Ford Motor Company's sales analyst, small cars accounted for approximately 24% of vehicles purchased in February 2012. That's a 4% increase from 2 months ago. In response to the growing popularity of smaller vehicles with better gas mileage, automakers continue to develop more efficient cars. During his weekly radio address on March 3, President Obama said that cars averaging nearly 55 miles per gallon will be available by 2025. The current standard is about 23.7 miles per gallon.

But what about safety concerns? Data reports indicate that the death rate in small sedans was 72 per million vehicles in 2005 to 2008 models. This figure only represents a 35% decrease from the death rate of 110 per million vehicles in 1999 to 2002 models. Safety officials believe that the focus needs to be placed on improvements in the safety of small cars, which are often involved in accidents with these larger vehicles.

"The trend from the reported data is clear: The lighter the vehicle, the higher the likelihood that its driver will be killed in a collision with another vehicle," says Mukul Verma, a veteran auto industry safety official.

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2 Day-Old Survives Fatal Head-On Collision in Miller County, Missouri

714568_light_3.jpgThis week, our Columbia car accident attorneys were saddened to hear about a terrible crash in Miller County, Missouri, which took 3 lives and left 2 survivors injured. One of those survivors is a 2 day-old baby, and he's the only member of his family to live through the collision.

The accident occurred on Missouri Highway 52. Proud new parents Marty and Elisa Wilcox had just left the hospital: 2 days previously, Elisa had given birth to a baby boy, Gabriel. The couple (along with Gabriel and their other son, 3 year-old Marty Jr.) was traveling to visit Elisa's parents, Brad and Angela Hartwig, to introduce them to their new grandson. It was a bright, sunny afternoon: the Leap Day Storms that would do so much damage in Missouri were still hours away. "As far as I know, weather was not a factor," said Sergeant Paul Reinsh of the Missouri Highway Patrol.

The circumstances that caused the collision are still a mystery. All that's known for sure is this: as the family traveled west on MO 52, an eastbound Toyota moved into their path. The two vehicles collided head-on. Marty and Elisa Wilcox were pronounced dead at the scene; 3 year-old Marty Jr. was taken to the hospital by ambulance, where he died a short time later.

Miraculously, Gabriel Wilcox survived, even though he was thrown from the vehicle. He was treated for moderate injuries and has since been released into his grandmother's care. Angela Hartwig, who has been granted emergency guardianship of Gabriel, is still in shock: "It's just a nightmare. She was my oldest daughter, and she was so happy to be bringing her baby home," Hartwig said. The Wilcox family had recently moved into a bigger house in Eldon to make more room for their growing family.

The driver of the Toyota was 19 year-old Emily Frakes, who was seriously injured in the accident and airlifted from the scene. She remains hospitalized in serious condition in neuro-intensive care. Unbelievably, Frakes and Elisa Wilcox were co-workers at a nursing home in Tuscumbia: Elisa was a medical tech, and Frakes was a nurse's aide. Frakes was commuting to work at the time of the accident. Everyone involved in the accident was wearing a seatbelt, and both Wilcox children were properly restrained in child safety seats.

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