Busy weekend sees increase in accidents

  • By DAN BALMER
  • Monday, July 21, 2014 9:23pm
  • News

With the increase of motorists on land and water across the central Kenai Peninsula this weekend, first responders saw a steady rise in accidents.

From Friday to Sunday, Alaska State Troopers responded to 11 motor vehicle accidents across the Kenai Peninsula, said trooper spokesperson Megan Peters. Central Emergency Services aided in five accidents with two people transported to Central Peninsula Hospital, said Health and Safety Officer Brad Nelson. Kenai Police Chief Gus Sandahl said his officers were dispatched to four accidents, including one on the water and another involving an all-terrain vehicle. Another boat collision in front of The Pillars Boat Launch was referred to the Alaska State Parks, he said.

None of the accidents resulted in any life-threatening injuries, Nelson said.

On Sunday CES and Soldotna Police responded to a two-car collision at the Kalifornsky Beach Road and Sterling Highway intersection at about 1:30 p.m. Nelson said one person was transported to the hospital. Later in the day, another two-vehicle accident at Mile 91.5 of the Sterling Highway involved a red sedan and van. One person was transported to the hospital, Nelson said.

Nelson said it is typical this time of year to see a spike in accidents for a variety of reasons.

“What we find every year, whether people are camping and fishing all day, by Sunday they are exhausted,” he said. “We have had people fall asleep and run off the road, or show impatience trying to pass. Alcohol has been a factor as well. It seems to rear its ugly head on busy weekends.”

To kick off the weekend, a three-vehicle accident occurred Friday at about 4:30 p.m. in a highway work zone near Mile 79.5 of the Sterling Highway. Gene Davis, 44 of Anchorage was driving a tractor-trailer when he came upon a line of cars stopped for a flagger. According to a trooper dispatch, Davis attempted to avoid the collision but his rear tire struck a Honda motorcycle, driven by Daniel Riggs, 53, from Texas. The motorcycle pushed forward into a Dodge pickup driven by James Sumner, 72, of Indian.

Trooper spokesperson Beth Ipsen said road crews were painting lines where the highway breaks into four lanes. Sumner was hauling a boat and had about a dozen vehicles in front of him. Davis reported he didn’t see brake lights and didn’t realize the cars were stopped.

The trailer hit Riggs and pushed his bike into the inflatable boat in front, Ipsen said.

Riggs suffered minor injuries and was wearing a helmet, while the other two drivers were wearing seatbelts. Davis was issued a citation.

“Everything was drivable, miraculously,” Ipsen said.

Ipsen said the trooper who responded on scene said there was a lot of traffic in the area and he was concerned with people not paying attention to troopers stopped on the side of the road during a traffic stop.

A collision between two boaters sent three people into the Kenai River Saturday — the second boating accident to occur at the mouth of the river in a three-day span. Kenai Police Lt. David Ross said all three people were rescued from the water, brought to shore at the Warren Ames Bridge and transported to CPH for non-life threatening injuries.

A similar boating accident occurred on July 16 when a boat capsized and sent three people and a dog into the water.

Brothers Eli and Zack Porter saw the boat upside down and quickly came to the rescue and pulled a father and son from the frigid river.

While on a commercial fishing excursion, Zack Porter said a deckhand noticed a boat upside down about 50 yards away, not far from Kenai Landing. He drove his skiff up against the boat and pulled two men out of the water. A woman was rescued from the water by another boater. As soon as the father made it onto the deck, he pointed down to his boat and said his dog was trapped underneath. Despite wearing a life jacket, the dog could not be saved in time.

Zack Porter said the tide and all the boaters on the river made for a fast current and big wakes. Porter, who lives in Homer, said it was the first time in 12 years on the Kenai River during dipnet season.

“It was dangerous out there,” he said. “The current was running fast with so many boats on the water. We were happy to help them out. They were nice people.”

Porter said the father, who he guessed was about 70 years old, and his son were probably in the water for several minutes. The father was cold and sapped of energy, but thankful. Porter said he couldn’t flip the boat over to rescue the dog.

Kenai Battalion Chief Tony Prior said boaters should take the proper precautions before heading out on the water and call 911 if they do see an accident. If anyone is in need of a rescue, he said boaters should put their motor in neutral and try to approach the bow downriver at an upriver angle.

“The boat operator should concentrate on not causing another accident and shouldn’t be fixated on rescuing with so many boats not paying attention,” he said. “Once people are rescued don’t put yourself at further risk trying to flip a boat back over.”

Prior said boaters should check weather conditions before they go on the water and always wear a life jacket. The six people that went into the river all were wearing life jackets.

“Always pay attention to what the other boats are doing,” he said. “Life preservers buy you time in the event of a rescue.”

Reach Dan Balmer at daniel.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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