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‘Keeping Karnes Safe’
The Eagle Ford shale oil and natural gas boom has increased the number of tractor-trailers on area roadways.
Wilson County NewsJune 6, 2012 3,613 views 1 comment
Campaign to encourage safety among truckers
With major wrecks involving tractor-trailers becoming a daily occurrence and eight traffic fatalities since Jan. 1, officials in Karnes County are appealing to the public for help.
“We can’t, in good conscience, just sit back and do nothing,” said Karnes County Sheriff David Jalufka.
This is why on May 3, Jalufka and Karnes County Judge Barbara Najvar Shaw began the “Keeping Karnes Safe” campaign. Shaw compares the program to other citizen-led initiatives, such as Neighborhood Watch or Crime Stoppers, which rely on tipsters to provide information. With Keeping Karnes Safe, however, the targets are fast or reckless commercial-truck drivers.
Anyone who witnesses speeding or reckless driving of these vehicles is asked to call Shaw at 830-780-3732 or Jalufka at 830-780-3931. Callers should be ready to provide a date, time, and location for the incident, and the name of the company involved. If possible, callers also should obtain the license-plate number and other identifying numbers from the offending vehicle.
Callers will be asked to provide their names and telephone numbers, as anonymous complaints will not be accepted. This information will remain confidential.
Once the complaint is received, Shaw said a certified letter outlining the safety concern will be sent to the offending trucking company.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, or who you know,” Shaw said. “This applies for everybody.”
Since the campaign began, Shaw and Jalufka have received numerous tips from all over Karnes County. During a May 24 interview, Shaw displayed at least two dozen copies of certified letters that already have been sent to companies with corporate offices located across the country.
“These companies’ safety reps have no idea this is happening,” Shaw said. “The only way we’re going to be able to get anything to these people was to get it in written form.”
Karnes County’s sudden spike in traffic crashes and fatalities is being blamed on the Eagle Ford shale boom. The county is covered almost entirely by the vast oil and natural gas field, which spans from the Rio Grande through much of South Texas. This has added a sizable temporary population to the 755- square-mile county, in which the 2010 U.S. Census counted just 14,824 residents.
Jalufka said he has only 11 patrol deputies to cover the entire county, with an average of 2-1/2 covering a staggered, 12-hour shift.
“We don’t have a deputy to sit on every road,” Shaw said.
“Right now, there’s so much activity going on,” Jalufka said. “[The deputies] make a call, get out of a call, and might have two calls waiting for them.”
In 2010, Jalufka said he had four to five patrol deputies who wrote approximately 100 traffic tickets. In 2011, that number jumped to 1,200 tickets, with as many as 900 of those being written in the last three months of the year.
But when 19-year-old Tommy “Trey” Vickery III died in a March 1 crash with a tractor-trailer on F.M. 239, the situation became personal for Jalufka, Shaw, and several other county officials. Shaw attended school with Vickery’s mother, while Jalufka attends church with his family.
“These are not just names to us,” Shaw said. “These are people we know. They are a part of the community.”
Keeping Karnes Safe is just one way in which the county is targeting unsafe truck traffic on its roadways. It continues to seek help from Director Steven McCraw of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and from state Rep. Jose Aliseda and U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa.
Jalufka said the Texas Department of Public Safety has committed to sending more commercial-vehicle enforcement troopers to Karnes County. The county also is completing construction of a weigh station near the intersection of U.S. 181 and S.H. 123 near Karnes City, which will be staffed by county deputies.
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June 7, 2012 8:07am
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