By: Terry Harris | Email: Click Here
Posted: January 22, 2019 | 2:15 p.m
SUSSEX – “I put it in drive, but couldn’t get away; with a vehicle coming at you at 70 mph there’s not much reaction time.” Thus Sgt. James Meredith of the Sussex County Sheriff’s Department described his narrow escape when a vehicle crashed into his department SUV on the I-95 median last Friday.
“I was running radar at the 24 mile marker turnaround at around 6:50 a.m., Meredith related. “It was still dark, and I was parked in the median strip between lanes, observing northbound traffic. I had just released a vehicle when I heard something behind me coming through woods, and a split second later the vehicle swung around and hit the front end of my unmarked SUV.”
“He was coming from north, swerved off to the right, overcorrected and ran off into ditch line, came up on the embankment where I was sitting and swung around and struck me,” Meredith said. “It was a matter of inches – where the vehicle hit my vehicle.”
Sgt. Meredith said that immediately following the crash he saw what appeared to be a lot of smoke and thought the vehicle might be on fire, but quickly determined that it was a cloud of steam coming from the damaged vehicle.
“Luckily, there were no serious injuries,” he added, “at least partly because the woods line gave some protection and before hitting me he hit the ditchline and the bank. They were very lucky because there was a great deal of damage. The fact that all six occupants in the vehicle and myself were able to walk away is a blessing. I’ve seen much less damage with much more severe injuries.”
The damage to the front-passenger side of the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office vehicle is evident around the wheel well near the light.
The incident is still under investigation. But the close call emphasizes the need for all drivers to be acutely conscious of potential hazards on the highway. It also comes right on the heels of Governor Northam’s recent efforts to emphasize awareness of dangerous practices like distracted or sleepy driving.
“Distracted driving …is a fast-growing epidemic on Virginia roadways,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine in a December 4 press release from the governor’s office. “Last year in Virginia, 208 people were killed and more than 14,600 injured in crashes that were a direct result of distracted driving.”
Echoing the governor’s concerns, Sussex County Sheriff Ernest Giles said, “There are enough devices inside a vehicle as it is. Using cell phones while driving, for example, or sleepy driving are particularly dangerous. If you feel you’re tired, you need to come off the roadway. A fatigued driver is worse than a drunk driver. You don’t realize what happened before it’s too late.”
When asked how a near-miss like this one affects law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day, Meredith, who said that he has had a tractor trailer run off the road into that same median, said, “When you do it as often as we do, you try not to dwell on it too much. Just get the job done. The next day, you’re right out there in a different vehicle. I know that regardless, we have to do our job. So I was a little shaken, but you get over it and do your job.”