Twice as many people have died on Lexington County roadways this year compared to the same time last year, and the county is leading the state in traffic deaths.
As of Tuesday, 34 people have been killed on Lexington County roadways this year, according toLexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher, who said there were 17 traffic deaths at this time last year.
"We're four months ahead of where we were last year," said Fisher, noting that the county did not reach 34 traffic deaths in 2017 until the end of September.
The coroner's numbers differ slightly from weekly data released Monday by the S.C. Department of Public Safety, which show 30 traffic deaths in Lexington County so far this year — the most in the state. Fisher said victims sometimes die days after a collision, accounting for the discrepancy.
It's not a list she wants to see the county topping ahead of "The 100 Deadly Days of Summer," the name given by state troopers to the period running from Memorial Day to Labor Day, during which traffic deaths typically increase. More than 500,000 South Carolinians are expected to hit the roads this Memorial Day weekend, AAA of the Carolinas said this week.
Behind Lexington County in the state numbers is Spartanburg County with 28 fatalities, then Greenville and Charleston counties with 24 each.
Lexington County was seventh in the state at this time last year and sixth at the same time in 2016, according to state numbers.
More than a dozen of Lexington County's deaths this year have come since April 1. They include a crash that killed three teenagers during a police chase in Irmo on April 4; a 5-year-old girl who was hit by a car after running into traffic on I-20 on April 27; a 10-car crash on I-20 that killed a man on May 3; and a head-on crash that killed two drivers on U.S. 1 during the morning commute on May 9.
The youngest person killed on roadways in Lexington County this year was 3-year-old Cavon Cannon. The toddler was unrestrained when his mother's car crashed head-on into a tractor-trailer on Old Dunbar Road in March, killing them both.
Fisher, whose office has the sorrowful task of notifying families of a loved one's death after a crash, can't pinpoint a cause for the spike in fatalities.
"For whatever reason, Lexington County has just had a rash," she said. "I don't really have a reason. I know that there's things associated with every accident that could have been prevented."
Those things include driving under the influence, speeding, not using aseat belt and distracted driving.
"People need to understand that their behavior can have bad consequences for other people, not just themselves," Fisher said.
Even when the cause of a crash is identified, statistics can be misleading, particularly if it involves distracted driving, according to Tiffany Wright, spokesperson for AAA of the Carolinas.
"It all depends on how a report is filed following a collision," she said. "Most motorists won’t admit they were driving distracted following a crash. Therefore, a report might be written up saying 'failure to yield,' which is true but the cause could’ve been distracted driving."
The crashes have happened on interstates, rural roads and city roads, according to Fisher, but Wright said rural road deaths continue to be a problem in South Carolina.
The good news in the latest report is that traffic fatalities statewide have decreased from 382 at this time last year to 322 so far this year. Pedestrian, motorcycle and bicycle deaths all have decreased since last year.
Of the 234 vehicle occupants who have died this year, nearly half weren't wearing seat belts, according to the Department of Public Safety.