CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - You've seen the signs on Ohio roadways. As the days go on, they tell us how many people have died in traffic crashes and other road incidents so far that year.
In 2018, that number reached 1,071 fatalities.
For ODOT Highway Safety Program Manager Michelle May, it's critical to not only know that number, but understand what's behind it.
“We get together, we take a look at the crash trends, month-to-month. We look at the crash types,” she said. “What kind of crash was it? Was it alcohol-related? Speed? Did it involve a young driver? Did someone go off the side of the road? And then we try and make decisions about how we’re going to make investments to try and prevent those going forward.”
Cleveland 19 was there when ODOT released that information at its January meeting with partner agencies in Columbus.
According to last year’s statistics, 27 percent of deaths involved alcohol. Forty-seven percent involved unbuckled passengers or drivers, while 32 percent involved speeding and 5 percent were attributed to distracted driving.
May says she knows the 5 percent figure does not accurately represent that number of people who were driving while distracted at the time of the crash, but that number is skewed by the requirement that the information be self-reported.
Drunken driving tragedies
We wanted to see how those numbers affect real people in Northeast Ohio. To get those answers, we met Melonie Welchans. Her younger brother, Terrell Williams, was only 24 years old when he was killed in a crash. Williams was the passenger in a car and unaware the driver was legally intoxicated. When the accident occurred, Williams was ejected from the vehicle and killed instantly.
"When my brother was killed, he was number 623 deaths, and that's just in June," said Welchans.
Terrell Williams was killed on June 25, his birthday.
"My kids, it's their only uncle. It's my only sibling. It's a devastating loss for my entire family," said Welchans.
Since her brother's death, Welchans has campaigned for stricter penalties for people who break the law by drinking and driving, speaking at Mothers Against Drunk Driving events and community organizations. She adopted his puppy, Nike. At seven months pregnant, she plans to name her daughter Aria Elle in honor of her brother--Terrell.
"I know 100 percent that he would have gone out into the world and done amazing things," she said. "Like I said, he was into theater, he wanted to be a nurse. He was just your average 24-year-old, you know."
So far this January, Ohio has recorded 64 deaths. That’s up five from this time last year.