MARYSVILLE, Ohio — Three months’ time. Three people dead. One short stretch of rural highway.
That was enough to get people’s attention.
Local government, the State Highway Patrol and the sheriff all set their sights on an 11-mile stretch of Rt. 4 from Marysville north to the Union-Delaware county line in an attempt to end a rash of fatal traffic crashes.
On a highway that saw one fatality in 2004 and one in 2005, three people died last year. And one person has died already in 2007.
So beginning Monday, authorities will go after speeders and aggressive drivers.
They have slapped down pavement markings to help aircraft judge the speed of vehicles, and they’ve posted billboard-size flashing signs warning drivers that they’re in a problem area.
Until at least April 3, state troopers and Union County deputy sheriffs will almost constantly patrol the area in air and on the ground.
"We’ve got to do something because, clearly, we’re not making much of a difference so far," said Sheriff Rocky Nelson.
Highways across Ohio have problem spots, areas where law-enforcement authorities focus their efforts. But those are generally interstates in metro areas, officials say. Less than 10 times a year does a rural highway crop up as an emerging problem, said Michael Brining of the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
Lt. Jeff Frisch of the Union County sheriff’s office first realized that Rt. 4 was becoming dangerous.
Nelson said Frisch suggest- ed that grant money be used to beef up patrols, and Frisch persuaded Nelson to reallocate some of his budget to pay for overtime.
Nelson’s office then began working with the highway patrol and the Marion County sheriff’s office, which also will step up patrols on its section of Rt. 4.
Officials say they’re done with friendly warnings. It’s time for tickets.
"When we’re out there, we always see people speeding, following too closely, just making bad decisions," said patrol Sgt. Jon Payer. "We want them to know if you make a bad decision, you could die."
He said the uptick in fatalities last year made that clear. Rt. 4 accounted for half of Union County’s traffic fatalities.
The first crash came in May, when a 17-year-old died after trying to pass in a no-passing zone.
Fatal crashes in November and December also were caused by passing on a double-yellow line and following too closely.
The woman killed in a middle-of-the-night crash in January was driving drunk, the patrol said.
"It’s not as if this is happening because of fog, ice or anything else," Payer said. "It’s someone’s error."