'Something needed to be done': Police out in force on I-95

The truck driven by James Clark (bottom left) is pictured after a multi-vehicle crash on Interstate 95 southbound involving two tractor-trailers and four cars Fri., Nov. 2, 2007, in East Lyme. (Dana Jensen/The Day file photo)
The truck driven by James Clark (bottom left) is pictured after a multi-vehicle crash on Interstate 95 southbound involving two tractor-trailers and four cars Fri., Nov. 2, 2007, in East Lyme. (Dana Jensen/The Day file photo)

In September, Lt. Daniel Loughman became the new commanding officer of state police Troop F in Westbrook, responsible for a region cornered by Branford, Middletown and Old Lyme.

A month later, a dump truck, unable to stop for traffic, sent a Ford Mustang spinning into a tractor-trailer near Exit 71 on Interstate 95 north. The Mustang burst into flames. Its two occupants did not survive.

“My boss brought to my attention that this is not the first accident in the area,” Loughman recalled. “In fact, it’s a known hot spot. Something needed to be done.”

Out of their discussions came an extensive, multidepartment enforcement operation that began last week and is set to last through the end of the year.

The timing and density of state police’s enforcement will vary based on troopers’ schedules. In general, troopers from Troop F are setting up on the northbound side of the highway from exits 64 to 71. Members of Troop E are handling I-95 south from exits 80 to 71.

All of the troopers are looking for drivers who are:

  • using a cellphone
  • hanging in the left lane (that’s called failure to drive right)
  • passing on the right
  • failing to move over for emergency vehicles
  • following too closely
  • speeding
  • driving aggressively
  • unsafely changing lanes
  • driving under the influence
  • committing driving violations in a work zone

Loughman said Troop F is focusing on the area leading up to the harrowing stretch that spans from the Raymond E. Baldwin Bridge to the Interstate 395 exchange. Indeed, cruisers were stationed on both sides of the northbound Baldwin multiple times this past week.

“Our troopers have directives to do traffic stops in a safe manner by taking into account things like weather conditions and line of sight,” Loughman explained.

He said it can be challenging for troopers to stop cars from exits 70 to 76 because the stretch is so narrow.

“We’re trying to get to dangerous drivers before they get to that point where we feel the most accidents are occurring,” Loughman said.

Including the September dump truck incident, eight fatal crashes have occurred between exits 70 and 76 since 2015. In other words, a stretch of road that makes up just 5 percent of I-95 in Connecticut has seen 16 percent of its fatal wrecks.

Members of the state police Traffic Services Unit, which can perform inspections in addition to enforcing laws, are assisting local troopers in their efforts. So, too, is the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

According to DMV spokesman Bill Seymour, personnel from the Central and East truck teams will be stationed somewhere within the Troop E and F coverage region once a week as the campaign continues. They’re primarily keeping an eye out for commercial vehicle drivers who are behaving badly or operating unsafe equipment. But they’ll also be conducting random inspections. The dump truck involved in September’s fatal crash recently had been cited for a brake-related violation.

The state Department of Transportation is filling its message boards along I-95 with explanations of relevant statutes or advice, like what to do if you’re in a minor fender bender and still can drive your car (move off the roadway and wait for police). Police will post similar tidbits to the Troop F and Connecticut State Police Facebook pages.

Taken together, the effort involves more entities than a usual Click It or Ticket-type operation. And it’s lengthier, too.

“We hope when people see us out there, it will make them think twice about committing those violations,” Loughman said. “And hopefully it will stick."

State Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, said the initiative is “a good start” as the state awaits the results of an up to $500,000 study into what more can be done to improve I-95’s problem spots.

Already, the DOT has installed concrete barriers, repaired ramps and added high-speed shoulders along the Old Lyme-East Lyme span.

“I really appreciate that state police, the DMV and the DOT are putting a special focus on this dangerous stretch of 95,” Carney said. “It is one piece of the puzzle to improve safety and decrease the number of accidents.”

Carney, one of multiple politicians who over the years have called on the DOT to do more to reduce fatal wrecks in the region, said he also would like to see increased signage on I-95.

“I look forward to following this campaign ... to see which violations occurred more frequently and how, based on those results, we can move forward to further improve 95 through the rest of the year,” he said.

l.boyle@theday.com

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments