Another death: Albemarle traffic fatalities rise to 21

In November, after five people died in crashes in less than a week and with 19 deaths for the year, Albemarle was looking at its highest number of traffic fatalities since 2003.

Since then, two more people have died.

The most recent death occurred January 6, more than a week after a 6:30am collision near Western Albemarle High School in the 5900 block of Rockfish Gap Turnpike.

According to Sergeant Darrell Byers with Albemarle Police, Kenneth Eugene Hughes, 77, of Roanoke, was heading east on U.S. 250 in his Nissan Rogue on December 28, when Michael Carson Ragland, driving a tractor trailer, was making a U-turn. Ragland has been charged with failure to yield the right of way, and other charges may be pending, adds Byers.

In 2010, Ragland was found guilty of that same charge in Louisa. Records show he was also convicted of making an improper lane change in Albemarle in 2008.

Initially, medical personnel didn't think Hughes' injuries were life-threatening, says Byers. "We didn't learn about [his death] until after the new year. We learned about it from FOIA requests." The Freedom of Information Act requests came from lawyers, says Byers, who adds that a crash reconstruction team is studying the incident.

Gaetan Fraser, 45, a truck driver from Quebec on his way to Florida with relatives, became Albemarle's 20th fatality December 21 when he swerved to miss a wooden chair in the left lane of I-64 that had fallen off a 2006 Toyota Tacoma driven by Chad S. Ellis, 27, of Charlottesville. Ellis had pulled over, and Fraser's Saturn struck the Tacoma, rolled over, and landed on its passenger side, according to Virginia State Police. Fraser's four passengers were taken to UVA Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries.

Ellis, charged with failing to properly secure a load, goes to court February 7.

Gaetan Fraser's widow, Nathalie Issa, has mixed feelings about the charge. She believes Ellis was negligent– and that he didn't mean for a death to occur, she says in a phone interview from Quebec. "If he has compassion, if he has a normal conscience, he's paying for this," she says.

Fraser and Issa had been married for 27 years. "It was a teenage marriage," she says.

Samuel Antonio Wells, 25, will be in court the same day as Ellis to face reckless driving charges for slamming his Honda Civic into a truck driven by Larry L. Taylor, 59, as Wells entered eastbound I-64 on November 11. The car Taylor was driving in the far left lane rolled three times, and he died at the scene.

And on February 6, Jessica Marie Lewis faces a preliminary hearing for manslaughter in one of the last year's most heartbreaking cases. Lewis, 36, is charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter for the November 10 deaths of her daughter, Amber Leigh Johnson, 20, and Amber's father, Michael Johnson, 40, when the car Lewis was driving slammed into a tree on Half Mile Branch Road near King Family Vineyard in Crozet. Lewis also has a February 7 court date for a DUI charge stemming from the incident.

According to police, the common factors in most traffic fatalities are speed, alcohol, and unworn seatbelts. However, these don't appear in the county's two most recent deaths. Alcohol and speed haven't been cited, and both victims were wearing seatbelts.


Albemarle County's traffic safety record is one of the worst in the state.

I believe it is the highest per capita in the state.

Speed, distractions, i.e., cell phones -- talking, texting -- applying makeup, reading, fussing with the kids in the back, eating, and even putting on panty hose while driving, all are contributing factors to crashes. They shouldn't be called accidents because "accident" implies no one was at fault. In most causes, someone is at fault. The number one priority behind the wheel is driving a car -- driving defensively and being aware of your surroundings at all times. And yes, please sloooooow dooooooown!

Proper training of new drivers and reducing the number of individuals driving without a drivers license will improve the safety of our roads. Great training will provide insight on techniques; create habits (use signal when turning, head check blind spot, proper merging) and help improve good decision making). A complete and instinctive understanding of the laws of the road would in my opinion reduce collisions too. VDOT should study the reasons why some intersections are so dangerous in Charlottesville. Poor signage, improper paint striping, poor visibility (Vegetation), ridiculous timing of lights, etc.... Hey HOOK peeps maybe a story again about the dangerous intersection in our town and ideas of simple ways VDOT can improve them.

I hate to keep hearing about speed. Charlottesville is infested with slow pokes, down right putzes, ruining every traffic pattern around.

They don't just drive slow, they are amazingly passive and uncompetitive. Light turns green, one car creeps, then the next, then the next.

My prediction is that there will eventually be a road rage serious incident. Someone is gonna snap.

Hey Mikey, chill. Think positive thoughts.

@ Mike

I hear ya. I've been noticing a weird pattern since about last summer, for me anyway, where I'm finding myself behind creepers. And I'm not exactly a speed demon myself, but I believe in driving at a reasonable speed. You know........GO. It's called the gas pedal. Use it. But these people are literally creeping down Locust at like, 15, 20 miles an hour, with their heads so far up their butt they don't have the common sense courtesy to pull over and let people pass them. Merging onto the 250 at 10, 15 miles an hour so that if I'm behind them also trying to merge on I have to veer around them to the left. By the time I'm already on the 250 cruising in the left lane, I'm leaving them far behind in the right lane, creeping at around 20 mph, barely moving. HELLO, it's the 250, not a sidestreet in a school zone. There's cars rushing up on you from behind at like, 40, 50 mph. MOVE! Rididulous.

Then there's something I've ONLY ever seen here in Charlottesville/Virginia, and I've lived around the country, mind you. !!!! But it's the whole, OH NO! IF I TURN TOO QUICKLY MY FRONT AXEL MIGHT BREAK!!!!! So people will turn in slo mo, at like 2, 3, 4 miles an hour, as if they're afraid their big sturdy car will somehow......break in half or something if they go any faster while simultaneously turning the wheel. I've never seen anything like it anywhere else. I can get around a corner faster on my BIKE! Hell, I can get around a corner faster on foot.

Charlottesville's full of creepers.

Oh yeah, and one time I was behind a 10 mph creeper on Locust, who would NOT pull over and let me pass, I don't know what these people were doing, so finally I just had enough and went around them.........and then they angrily and indignantly honked at *me.* They truly had no idea what the problem was or why I would pull a stunt like that. Me, I was just trying to get to where I was going sometime within the next, oh I don't know, 14 hours, you know?