Horry County leads the state in road deaths this year
If you’re traveling to the beach this month, you’re going to have to drive on the state’s deadliest road — at the most fatal time of year.
When storms are not raging along the coast, the weather on the Grand Strand in October is typically pleasant, enticing more people to travel and get outside, said Cpl. Sonny Collins of the S.C. Highway Patrol. “We see more pedestrians. We see more motorcycles on the roads.”
Troopers also see more deaths.
October is the worst month for fatal wrecks in South Carolina and U.S. Highway 17 is the deadliest thoroughfare, according to recent traffic studies by the S.C. Department of Public Safety.
The sound of sirens have become all-too familiar in Horry County, which leads the state this year in the number of roadway deaths.
Sidney Williams, 52, of Raleigh, North Carolina, drove into Myrtle Beach for the fall bike rally on Oct. 4, posting his first stop at Hamburger Joe’s on Facebook.
Twenty minutes after midnight, three days later, he was driving his 2006 Harley-Davidson motorcycle southbound on U.S. 17 when a Chevrolet minivan crossed in front of him at 31st Avenue in the Atlantic Beach area.
Williams hit the van and was thrown from his bike, according to Lance Cpl. Matt Southern of the S.C. Highway Patrol.
He wasn’t wearing a helmet, Southern said.
Williams was transported to Grand Strand Medical Center where he died 17 hours later.
26 people were killed in wrecks on U.S. 17 in 2015.
Wrecks that snarl traffic are pretty common in Horry County, where a collision happens, on average, once every 48 minutes, according to statistics provided by SCDPS. Once every five days, someone dies in the Independent Republic.
“When the troopers deliver that news to a family member, they know they are getting ready to devastate that person and an entire family,” Collins said. “It’s hard to deliver that news.”
It’s even harder, he said, when troopers don’t have all of the answers.
“That’s one of the reasons why those hit-and-runs are so tough,” Collins said.
Two pedestrians were struck by a car about 3 a.m. Friday near Waccamaw Drive on U.S. Highway 501. One of the pedestrians was killed. The driver fled the scene.
Collins said Friday morning the Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team was still gathering evidence in a search for a suspect.
“We’re human so it’s not just a job,” Collins said. “When we have to investigate a fatal crash, several things are going on. ... We have to give a family answers to why their loved one was killed. If someone can be held accountable, we have to make sure we do everything we can to do that … (and) make sure the investigation is right.”
Deadliest road in the state
Seventy-five people were killed on the 36 miles of U.S. 17 (bypass and business routes) in Horry County during a 5-year stretch from Jan. 1, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2016, according to statistics compiled by the S.C. Office of Highway Safety and Justice.
The 1,200-mile Coastal Highway, extending from Virginia to the Florida line, also was billed as the deadliest road in Charleston County, where 10 fatal collisions occurred last year, and Jasper County, which had seven fatal wrecks there in 2016.
An average of 36,806 motorists traverse the busy highway in Horry County every day, according to an average of daily traffic counts compiled last year by the S.C. Department of Transportation. Millions more fill the highway in peak tourism season — and with more cars, comes the potential for more wrecks.
The intersection of Pine Island Road and U.S. 17 Bypass near the Coastal Grand Mall was the site of two fatal collisions last year.
One crash on the night of Oct. 23 killed 22-year-old Samantha Herzig, a local nursing student, and severely injured her fiancé, Charles Young.
Patricia Mary Hale, 59, was charged with two counts of felony DUI. Her case is still pending in Horry County.
Atlantic Avenue and U.S. 17 Business in Garden City also has hosted a slew of collisions. Two of them, over the past five years, have been fatal.
“It is a bad corner,” said Bill Vlandis, owner of the Garden City Pancake House that stands where the roads converge. “There have been three or four wrecks (here) this past summer.”
The intersection is one of three in Garden City slated for improvements under Horry County’s RIDE 3 transportation program. The Department of Transportation is overseeing the improvements to the intersections.
“They have received proposals from the design teams and they’re in the selection process now for picking a design team,” said Jason Thompson, the county’s RIDE 3 program manager. “I suspect that team will be selected early December.”
Second deadliest road
Improvements also are slated for U.S. Highway 501 — the county’s second deadliest road. Between 2012 and 2016, 29 people died in collisions on the main artery that bisects Horry County and serves as the primary route for western visitors heading to the Grand Strand.
The day after Christmas in 2015, one of those collisions took the life of Jessie Mae Jamison.
“We was coming back from Myrtle Beach on Christmas day,” Jamison’s brother-in-law, Cleveland Williams, said after a court hearing for the driver charged in the wreck on June 28.
The wreck happened around 1:30 a.m. near Pee Dee Road on Dec. 26, 2015.
“We were headed home to Florence. We had decided we would spend a little Christmas at the beach and then we … would come back,” Williams said. “On our way back at Galivants Ferry is where the accident happened.”
Williams was driving. Jamison and her sister, Pencicola Williams, were in the car with him when troopers say a 2013 Dodge Durango, driven by Susan Annette Nevitt, crossed the center line and hit Williams’ Toyota head-on.
“It happened so fast we just didn’t know what was going on,” Williams said. “It just devastated us.”
“Her car caught fire and we were connected together so I moved around trying to get my family out of the car,” Williams said, recalling the wreck. “That’s when I found out that Jessie was gone because we had to cut the seatbelt on her side to get her out.”
Jamison was 72 years old at the time of her death.
Pencicola Williams and Nevitt’s 10-year-old daughter also were injured in the wreck. Nevitt was charged with two counts of felony DUI. Her case is still pending in Horry County.
“We never know when trouble is going to come our way, but there’s always that opportunity that something could happen and when it happens, it’s least expected,” Williams said.
Twenty-three fatalities were attributed to impaired drivers in Horry County in 2015, a death rate second only to Greenville and Spartanburg counties, which each noted 24 that year.
An average of 31,418 motorists traverse U.S. 501 in Horry County every day, according to average daily traffic counts compiled by the S.C. Department of Transportation last year.
9 people were killed in wrecks on U.S. 501 in 2016.
Under the RIDE 3 project, DOT officials plan to widen U.S. 501 from four lanes to six lanes between the S.C. Highway 544 interchange and S.C. Highway 31.
The widening project is currently in its design phase, Thompson said.
Worst time of day
Fatal collisions can strike any day at any time and motorists should always be on guard, but there are certain days and times when deadly wrecks occur more often, according to state statistics.
Similar to the rest of the state, most collisions in Horry County occur between the hours of 3 p.m. and 9 p.m., a time period when 4,015 wrecks were reported in 2015, the latest year for the S.C. Traffic Collision Fact Book.
“So much is happening between 3 and 9 (p.m.). School is letting out, you have rush hour traffic, people getting off work, going to supper,” Collins said.
Thirty-eight people were killed in Horry County collisions between the hours of 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. in 2015, according to the Fact Book.
Troopers are often reminding drivers to be mindful of the extra traffic on the roads, but pedestrians also should be vigilant.
“Make sure you wear something reflective (and) that you’re not walking in the roadway,” Collins said. “Other than at a crosswalk, you have to yield to the vehicles.”
In 2015, 131 pedestrians were killed on South Carolina roads and 141 were killed by motorcycle collisions.
“We can’t require you to wear a helmet if you’re over 21 but we certainly recommend it,” Collins said.
And for the thousands of drivers hitting the roads to enjoy the beautiful beach days that remain this year, troopers remind us all to buckle up.
“Most people think they’re good drivers and they are, but that seatbelt not only protects you from a mistake you may make, but also from other drivers’ mistakes,” Collins said. “That seatbelt is going to play a big part in you surviving that crash.”
Top 10 deadliest roads in Horry County
According to statistics compiled by the S.C. Office of Highway Safety and Justice, between Jan. 1, 2012 and Dec. 31, 2016:
75 people were killed in wrecks along U.S. Highway 17 (business and bypass)
29 people died in collisions on U.S. Highway 501 (including 501 Business)
17 people were killed in wrecks on S.C. Highway 9
15 people died in crashes on U.S. Highway 701
12 people were killed in collisions on S.C. Highway 22
9 people died in wrecks on S.C. Highway 90
9 people died in wrecks on S.C. Highway 544
8 people were killed in collisions on S.C. Highway 905
7 people were killed in crashes on Red Bluff Road
7 people died in wrecks on Carolina Bays Parkway