What’s causing a rise in deadly crashes across Shelby County?

SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — Grim numbers show a dramatic increase in deadly crashes in Memphis and Shelby County.

According to Tennessee Highway Safety Office, there 144 deadly crashes in 2019. That number nearly doubled in 2020 with 229 crashes. 2021 saw one more deadly crash with 230. 2022 isn’t starting off any better either.

There have been almost 40 deadly crashes in the first two months. The most recent crash happened Monday, February 21st when a 14-year-old driver lost control of the car driving along Shelby Drive and crashed into a utility pole.

Two people were killed and another person sent to the hospital. The 14-year-old is facing a number of charges.

FOX13′s Traffic and Transportation reporter tracks accidents every morning on Good Morning Memphis. While the majority of accidents she tracks are minor, others are not that lucky.

Some Memphians tells FOX13 they don’t feel safe on the roads.

“I don’t really feel safe sometimes,” Adam Staub told FOX13.

Since 2019, the number of deadly crashes has nearly doubled in Memphis and Shelby County. There were 144 deadly crashes that year. In 2020, that number shot up to 229 and 2021 saw one more deadly crash with 230. 2022 is starting off with almost 40 deadly crashes.

“That’s a 150 percent increase from 2020,” says Don Crowe, Assistant Chief for Memphis Police.

The increase has been so drastic, state and local police are trying to address the issue. Police also want you to remember the lives lost are not just numbers or statistics, they’re someone’s loved one. Sumi Montgomery lives in Memphis and has felt the impacts of a deadly crash. Montgomery lost her father in July of 2020. Montgomery tells FOX13 that her father went out for a bike ride in their East Memphis neighborhood. Next thing she knew, Montgomery was getting a call from her mother saying her dad had not come home yet.

“We ended up calling the police and finding out that someone fitting my dad’s description was admitted as a John Doe to regional one trauma center,” said Montgomery.

Montgomery’s father suffered extensive injuries.

“He had locked in syndrome. He would be a quadriplegic, he had internal bleeding, brain swelling,’ said Montgomery.

Montgomery’s father died at the hospital with her and her mother by his side. Montgomery says her father’s death could have been prevented. Memphis Police Colonel Keith Watson tells FOX13 keeping roads safe can be a challenge for officers.

“The challenge for law enforcement to keep our roadways safe involves good driving,” said Watson.

Col. Watson says at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer drivers were on the roads and other drivers took notice.

“Those motorists took advantage of those open roadways and they began to speed and exceed the speed limit.”

There also weren’t a lot of Memphis police officers patrolling the roads.

“Because of covid protocols we had to take a step back,” said Col. Watson.

The question a lot of people ask is how these deadly crashes happen. Col. Watson tells FOX13 there are several contributing factors.

“Speed some time is a determinate factor, but also those distracted drivers,” said Watson. “The speed that was obtained to cause the crash could not be slowed enough or slowed down enough to stop that vehicle from having either a fatal or serious consequences in the City of Memphis.”

Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich is also taking notice to this stark increase.

“You can at any given moment here, the drag racers here, that’s got to contribute to the statistics we’re seeing,” said Weirich.

Weirich tells FOX13 she gets frustrated with these crimes because this is the one rare crime that can be prevented.

“Someone chose to drink, someone chose to take drugs, someone chose to get behind the wheel and drive in that manner, someone chose to drive distracted,” said Weirich.

In some cases, Weirich explains that someone can be charged with anything from vehicular assault to vehicular homicide. While those charges have lengthy prison sentences, Weirich says it’s not likely a person would serve full time.

“The law doesn’t really match with other homicide sentencing statutes.”

Here is a breakdown of what a person could face if charged in a deadly crash. Vehicular assault runs a sentence of 3 to 15 years in prison. Driving Under the Influence runs a sentence of 8 to 40 years and vehicular homicide runs a sentence of 15 to 25 years, but Weirich again emphasizes that most people don’t serve a full sentence.

“15 to 25 years sounds like a lot, when you read the fine print, it’s not the whole 15 years, it’s a portion of that,” said Weirich. “If you just look at the statue for 3 to 6 years on vehicular assault, that’s at 30 percent, but then there’s all kinds of credits that are given and other ways that the Tennessee department of corrections and penial farm count what 3 years really means.”

Many are asking how do you solve this problem? Weirich tells FOX13 it starts with parents.

“Parents need to make sure they’ve trained and taught and educated their child on the privilege of driving,” said Weirich.

Col. Watson and Memphis police say it’ll take time and education.

“One day at a time and to educate the public,” said Col. Watson. “We got into this as a slow progression, we will get out of it in a slow progression,” said Asst. Chief Crowe.

Some Memphians like Earl Ingram believe more officers on the roads is the answer.

“I know there’s a shortage of police, so I can’t blame that on the city too much. But, if we could get more traffic cops out here like their used to be back in the day, I think that would help out much more in the city,” Ingram told FOX13.