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Fort Bragg sees uptick in crashes

Staff Sgt. Anthony Christian sat in his patrol car on the All American Freeway around lunchtime, watching cars zip by, slightly above the speed limit.

Then came a Honda Odyssey, headed off Fort Bragg at 64 mph.

On came the flashing blue lights. Out rolled Christian, a military policeman, to stop the car.

"I didn't know I was speeding," said the driver, a major's wife.

Christian usually doesn't ask the drivers he stops for excuses and said he usually is more interested in education than punishment. He just gets their information and explains the reason for the stop.

In this case, he let the driver go with a verbal warning. It's what the MPs call "catch and release."

Christian is one of the military and Army civilian officers who patrol Fort Bragg's streets. They hope to curb the careless and reckless driving that has contributed to a rise in accidents in recent months.

Fort Bragg is coping with more cars on its outdated road network because of population growth and returning soldiers.

"As Fort Bragg has grown over the last 10 years or so, you can see an increase of about 20 percent in our population at Fort Bragg," Col. Jeff Sanborn told state officials in Raleigh last month. "Correspondingly, we have not seen a similar upgrade in our transportation infrastructure. So, what we are seeing now is between a 2 1/2or threefold increase in accident rates on Fort Bragg."

From October to December, Fort Bragg had almost 450 accidents, Sanborn said.

"Any time any city increases its population, incidents are going to increase," said Lt. Col. Michael W. Johns, Fort Bragg's provost marshal. "That's what happened here at Fort Bragg."

"The roads were built a long time ago," said Lt. Jason Tatro, an Army civilian policeman. "On Fort Bragg, we have 50 different types of drivers from all over the world."

In addition, Fort Bragg has extra rush hours with soldiers arriving before dawn for formations and physical training. Army civilian employees and contractors on large building projects add to the mix of drivers.

Fort Bragg has a variety of traffic challenges. Drivers speed on the open spaces of Plank Road. Major intersections have high numbers of accidents. The pine trees along "dead man's curve" on MacArthur Road near Peadens restaurant break the marks of past collisions.

The biggest cause of accidents is people not paying attention, Tatro said. Military police tell stories about drivers texting with both hands and driving with their knees or elbows.

"People have a lot of electronics in their cars," he said. "We have cellphones, radios, iPads, iPods. People are looking at music, they will look up, and all of a sudden, they fail to decrease their speed, and they have rear-ended somebody."

Weather is a close second contributor to the accidents, Johns said.

Fort Bragg has initiatives to increase road safety. Knowing more soldiers would be back during this year's holidays, Fort Bragg increased compliance checks.

Every month, there's Operation Enforce Standards to enforce driving rules and regulations, including speed, school zones, seat belts and cellphone use.

"I empty out the entire provost marshal's office," he said. The 16th Military Police Brigade helps.

On a weekly basis, "wolf packs" of patrol cars target smaller areas for increased patrols, based on concerns voiced at town halls and with commanders, Johns said.

Fort Bragg MPs know the danger spots, and they know the drivers who are often risk-takers.

"All day, every day," said Christian, as he drove away after stopping another driver. "It never stops. It's rush hour. Everybody's trying to get out of here, too."

Military editor Henry Cuningham can be reached at cuninghamh@fayobserver.com.

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