Yakima County had a record 51 fatal crashes last year, but 2022 might be even worse

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. — A new report by the Washington State Traffic Commission found the state hit a 20-year high for the number of deadly crashes in 2021, but estimates show that record will likely be broken by the end of the year.

Motor vehicle fatalities have nearly doubled in Yakima County over the past three years, from 27 fatal crashes in 2018 to 51 fatal crashes in 2021. Authorities report there’s been at least 15 so far this year.

“There has been an uptick of deaths,” Yakima County sheriff’s office spokesperson Casey Schilperoort said. “A large amount of the traffic deaths have to do with speeding and not stopping at stop signs.”

According to Schilperoort, speeding was a large factor in an incident in May where a 19-year-old man crashed into the Yakima Airport control tower and later died from his injuries at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Schilperoort said after speeding, the second most common factor in fatal crashes in Yakima County is distracted driving.

“A lot of those have to do with people who aren’t paying attention,” Schilperoort said. “They’re texting or trying to look at social media while they’re driving.”

Teen drivers especially at risk now through Labor Day — during “100 Deadliest Days”

Yakima County law enforcement officials are warning teens to think right now about the consequences of driving while under the influence, speeding or driving distracted, before it’s too late.

That warning comes at the the start of this year’s “100 Deadliest Days,” a period between Memorial Day and Labor Day when teens driving deaths are at their highest.

According to data from the Yakima County Coroner’s office, nearly half of all motor vehicle fatalities last year in Yakima County occurred during that time period.

On Aug. 5, 2021, three teens were killed and four were injured in a crash in Wapato. Deputies said the driver was speeding over a hill in a pickup truck and lost control of the vehicle, rolling it and ejecting several passengers.

Law enforcement officers said in addition to speeding, they see plenty of underage drunk drivers, especially during times when they’re supposed to be celebrating a holiday or special occasion.

“The kids get out of school, the Fourth of July comes up and a lot of times, people are choosing to use intoxicating beverages or legal and illegal substances and then choosing to drive,” Yakima Police Capt. Shawn Boyle said.

Boyle said while it’s important for parents to discourage their children from underage drinking and driving, it’s just as important to set up a plan with them ahead of time for how they’re going to get home safe if they find themselves in an unsafe situation.

“If they have to call for a ride, you know, make yourself available and deal with the consequences with your family after, but it’s a lot better to deal with consequences for the rules that you’ve broken at your home than a serious injury or fatal collision,” Boyle said.

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