Highway Patrol officials say traffic fatalities up this year so far

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 10, 2016

By Shavonne Walker

ROWAN COUNTY — In classic car circles, there weren’t too many people who didn’t know Jimmie Long and his sleek black 1958 Chevy Impala.

He was the kind-hearted man who sold his produce on the honor system. He was a farmer and the owner of an automotive dealership.

A month ago, Long and his wife, Linda, were headed in the Impala to dinner and a cruise-in when another car hit them head-on. Jimmie, 67, was killed. Linda, 68, was seriously injured. She was airlifted to the hospital and has since been in a Charlotte rehabilitation center where she continues to recover.

The Impala was made before seat belts were required.

The other driver, Asia Lane Sheeks, 21, was charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle and careless and reckless driving. N.C. Highway Patrol officials said there was no immediate known reason why Sheeks left the road.

Jimmie Long was the 10th traffic fatality of the year in Rowan County, up from the six lives tragically taken by the same time last year.

“I’ve known Jimmie since the ’60s. We both went to Winecoff High School,” said longtime friend Gary Walters.

The two really became friends over the last decade through the classic car world. Walters, a DJ and emcee at car shows, called Jimmie his “car buddy.”

Everybody at the Kannapolis Cruise-In knew Jimmie. He was a car collector and “would give you the shirt off his back.”

“He helped so many people, but if he had an opinion and if he thought it, then he said it,” Walters said.

He said much has been said about Jimmie and Linda, but very few people have shared kind sentiments about the other driver, Asia Sheeks.

“She made a tragic mistake that she will have to live with the rest of her life. Thousands of people run off the road all the time, but she made a very tragic mistake,” Walters said.

He said a friend recently asked him if he ever ran a red light. His answer was that he had, but the difference was that no one was on the other side.

“It’s very sad and unfortunate,” Walters said.

The numbers

According to the N.C. Highway Patrol, six people died in traffic-related collisions in Rowan County in the first half of 2015, compared to 10 so far this year.

By the end of the year, there had been 12 fatal accidents in 2015. Two were on Interstate 85, three involved motorcycles and five of the first six were single-vehicle crashes in which the driver ran off the road.

This year, five of the 10 collisions so far were single-vehicle crashes, one involved a passenger who was thrown from an all-terrain vehicle, two were head-on collisions and one involved a pedestrian who stepped out of her disabled vehicle on the interstate.

The issues

Highway Patrol officials say the population of the state and county has gone up, increasing the number of registered vehicles on the road, which is one possible reason for the increase in traffic deaths.

“The biggest obstacle we face now is distractions in vehicles. You have to think, everybody has a phone,” said First Sgt. S.L Pace.

AAA Carolinas says latest research has shown that using a cell phone while driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving.

Pace said people think they can take their eyes off the road, scan their phone and go back and forth between the two. However, at 60 mph traveling 88 feet per second, it is risky when you don’t know if the person in front of you is about to brake or a deer might dart in front of you, he said.

Speed always plays a factor, Pace said.

“Odds are you are going to be hurt or killed, the faster you go,” he said.

Not wearing seat belts is another reason for a number of fatalities, Pace said. Seat belts save lives. He said troopers get complaints from motorists who have to pay high traffic tickets for being caught not wearing a seat belt.

“I hate costing people money, but if we don’t enforce it, people will get the mentality that they can keep going without it,” he said.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.