RGV agencies launch ‘Operation Slowdown’ amid rash of fatal summer crashes

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July 10 was a deadly day on the road.

Over the course of 24 hours that day, three people died in crashes in Hidalgo County.

One fatality occurred just north of Palmview where a 22-year-old Mission man lost control of his vehicle and went airborne before rolling over multiple times into a ditch.

Ruled as an accident by Edinburg police, a 55-year-old Edinburg man was killed after being hit by a tractor-trailer outside the Hidalgo County Courthouse where the driver and bystanders stopped to render aid.

Earlier that morning, an alleged intoxicated 19-year-old Edinburg man was arrested after striking and killing a 36-year-old cyclist. The driver had fled the scene before being found walking near his home.

Those three people who died are just one example of a rash of fatal crashes that have occurred this summer.

In Hidalgo County, newspaper reports indicate that the number of fatalities reported between June and July this year are nearly double compared to last year’s and this month’s yet to end.

Last year, The Monitor reported on nine fatal crashes in that timeframe while there have been 16 reported fatalities this year so far.

According to the Texas Department of Transportation’s Pharr District, which includes Cameron, Willacy, Hidalgo, Starr, Zapata, Jim Hogg, Brooks and Kenedy counties, there were 116 fatal crashes in 2022 that resulted in 127 deaths.

So far, there have been 72 fatalities and 59 fatal crashes this year in the district.

While law enforcement routinely patrols and reminds residents about the dangers of speeding and drinking and driving, the rash of crashes this summer comes as authorities across the Rio Grande Valley announced Operation Slowdown, which is in effect until July 30.

Authorities investigate a fatal auto-pedestrian crash outside of the Hidalgo County Courthouse on Monday, July 10, 2023, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Operation Slowdown is an effort to target speeders — a common sight on Valley highways and byways.

Ray Pedraza, a spokesperson with TxDOT, said Thursday that slowing down on the road could make a significant difference between causing an accident and avoiding tragedy.

“We’re reminding drivers to save lives by slowing down,” Pedraza said. ”Speed continues to be the top contributing factor in traffic crashes in Texas. In fact, last year one in three people on the road were in a crash that involved speed.”

According to Pedraza, there were 555,233 traffic crashes in Texas and of those, there were 4,480 fatalities and 18,880 people who suffered serious injuries in 2022, a 0.4% decrease from the year before.

He added that 1,469 fatalities occurred in speed-related crashes last year.

Pedraza added that part of the operation is to urge drivers to plan ahead before hitting the road so they won’t be in a rush and to accommodate for construction or weather conditions.

“Arriving alive is more important than arriving on time,” Pedraza said, something that Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s Victim Services Specialist Ana Verley agrees with.

Verley believes that drivers should think before getting behind the wheel, citing a new law that was recently signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott on June 2.

“We need to be more responsible,” Verley said. “They need to pay attention and not just because there’s consequences, like having to pay child support.”

Verley referred to Bentley’s law, also known as House Bill 393, which will go into effect on Sept. 1. Bentley’s law will see defendants convicted of intoxication manslaughter pay child support if they killed a parent.

As a victim services specialist, Verley is familiar with the process involving victims of an intoxication manslaughter case in their attempts of receiving restitution for their losses which would cover funeral expenses, medical bills and much more.

“The impact is tremendous,” Verley said. “It’s not just emotional, it is financial, it is physical because not everyone dies in these crashes. There are a lot of them where there’s a fatality and there’s a survivor as well.

“So, then there’s the long-lasting impact of a crash.”

Some victims are injured so badly that they lose their quality of life. From losing limbs to physical therapy, surviving victims suffer in more ways than one.

Verley added that these life-changing accidents often tear families apart and not just for the victims but for the people behind the wheel as well.

“It’s just a really difficult situation all around,” Verley said. “So, until you’ve been impacted, I don’t think we think about those things and we don’t think of those consequences an impaired crash will have on us.”