Deputies stress defensive driving after fatal crashes in the Lower Yakima Valley

TOPPENISH, Wash. — Yakima County sheriff’s deputies are stressing the importance of defensive driving after three people were killed and several others were injured this week in two separate crashes in Lower Valley.

“In both cases, the person failed to stop at the stop sign, blew through the intersection and they were hit by the other car,” said Sgt. Wes Rasmussen with the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office. 

Rasmussen said investigators believe intoxicants contributed to the crashes, which occurred at intersections in Toppenish and Wapato.

READ: Two dead, one injured in suspected DUI crash south of Wapato

According to the sheriff’s office, a 33-year-old woman was killed Monday night when the car she was traveling in blew through a stop sign at the intersection of Fort and Becker roads in Toppenish and were struck by a passing car.

The two other women in the car with the 33-year-old were seriously injured in the incident. Rasmussen said the driver of the vehicle that had the right of way was taken to the hospital, but the three children in his car made it through without serious injury.

Another fatal crash occurred less than 24 hours later, about five miles away at the intersection of Progressive and South Wapato roads in Wapato.

According to sheriff’s deputies, two men in their 30s were killed in the collision after they failed to stop at the stop sign posted at the intersection and ran into a passing car. The woman driving the other car was injured and taken to a local hospital for treatment.

READ: Fatal collision on the Yakama Reservation kills passenger, lands three others in the hospital

Rasmussen said deputies frequently respond to fatality or serious injury collisions at four-way intersections in the Lower Valley that only have stop signs on one of the two intersecting roads.

“Very often, people just disregard the stop signs; they fail to stop,” Rasmussen said. “I think one of the things that happens is that people get away with it so often but nothing bad happens — then two cars meet with deadly consequences.”

Rasmussen said Yakima County has been trying to make stop signs in the Lower Valley more visible and has installed some signs that flash when a vehicle approaches the intersection.

One such sign is in place at Progressive and South Wapato roads, where a fatal collision occurred earlier this week. Rasmussen said while the signs do help with visibility, there’s only so much the county can do to help.

“Stop signs and whatnot are only as good as the people that actually obey what it is telling you to do,” Rasmussen said. “If you’re driving distracted or drunk and you go through the stop sign, you can have the best stop sign in the world and it’s not going to prevent it.”

Rasmussen said it’s important for drivers who have the right of way to keep a close eye on surrounding roads to make sure any approaching cars actually stop before heading into the intersection.

“Take the time to check both ways before you pass through that intersection and be sure that it’s clear and safe to do so,” Rasmussen said. “Just being a defensive driver now is more important than ever.”

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