In the past week, tragedy has struck the streets of Richmond County with four teenagers being hit by vehicles.
Two of those teens — 14-year-old Zykeith Harris and 13-year-old Demonta Collins — were killed in two separate incidents on Augusta roadways.
In Harris’ case, he was struck by a hit-and-run driver after midnight on Gordon Highway. The driver of the vehicle is still at large.
This past Sunday, Richmond County sheriff’s deputies responded to a call at the intersection of Laney Walker Boulevard and Cecelia Street and discovered 15-year-old Timothy Johnson had been struck by a Buick LaSabre.
Johnson was riding his bike on the sidewalk in front of Church’s Chicken and apparently traveled into oncoming traffic.
Johnson, who suffered blunt force trauma to the head and body, was taken to Georgia Regents University for treatment of life-threatening injuries, according to the sheriff’s office.
With the recent increase in the number of pedestrian/vehicle accidents, many in Augusta are wondering whether it will spell the return of some form of last year’s Operation Rolling Thunder, when numerous police checkpoints were put in place by the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
The purpose of Operation Rolling Thunder was to save lives by using a strong law enforcement presence to crackdown on careless motorists who are endangering the county’s roadways.
Specifically, Richmond County also wanted to address the number of pedestrians being killed by vehicles each year.
So does the recent increase in pedestrians being struck by vehicles mean Operation Rolling Thunder wasn’t successful?
Operation Rolling Thunder was started in Georgia in 2007, through the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. The group identifies counties that are having a lot of traffic fatalities and accidents with injuries.
The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety offers to deploy extra manpower at no additional expense to the county to help solve the problem and drive down the number of vehicular deaths and crashes.
When the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety reviewed the number of fatalities on Richmond County roadways over the past few years, it discovered the county suffered 19 total traffic fatalities in 2010, 34 in 2011 and 42 in 2012.
As a result of the rising number of traffic fatalities, Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree jumped at the opportunity for additional help.
For the time Operation Rolling Thunder was deploying extra manpower and putting up checkpoints, the number of vehicular fatalities did decline.
By the end of 2013, deputies had responded to 23 road fatalities compared to 42 the previous year.
However, after reviewing the type of vehicular deaths in 2013, Richmond County sheriff’s Lt. Lewis Blanchard told the Metro Spirit last year that he was disappointed by the number of pedestrian injuries.
“On one hand, Operation Rolling Thunder has been effective because we have drastically reduced the number of fatalities and the number of crashes with injuries. Just with the crashes with injuries, I think we are at 1,300 less crashes than last year. That’s huge,” Blanchard told the Metro Spirit in November 2013. “On the other hand, we are still having a lot of fatalities, but they are more towards pedestrians incidents. We’ve had more pedestrian incident this year than we did last year, so that’s disappointing.”
Apparently, setting up checkpoints won’t necessarily stop or even decrease the number of senseless pedestrian deaths like the ones that occurred this past week.
Hopefully, the sheriff’s office will come up with a more effective approach to keeping pedestrians safe and slowing motorists down to prevent such horrific deaths, especially when the victims are so young.