The memorials dot the roadways of Montgomery County like fallen trees after a storm. The crosses and wreaths, bone-dry in the summer heat, mark the names and the dates of instant tragedy. And as Montgomery County struggles to build and improve roads, the memorials keep appearing.
Since 2010, the county has seen 305 motor vehicle fatalities, the eighth-most of the 254 counties in the state during that period, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
And while the county ranks 11th in population among 254 counties in Texas, it has the second-most vehicle fatalities per capita with 12.5 deaths per 100,000 people, based on a statistical analysis conducted by Community Impact Newspaper.
Erik Burse, public information officer for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said one of the main reasons for the high number of fatalities on county roads is the rapid increase in population the county has experienced.
According to the Houston-Galveston Area Council, Montgomery County’s population has increased 13 percent over the past five years from 459,421 in 2010 to 518,947 in 2014. Meanwhile, traffic along FM 2978 has increased 14 percent over the past six years. At FM 1488 and Hwy. 242, traffic has increased 50 percent, according to a traffic study conducted by The Woodlands Development Company.
Montgomery County will seek voter approval for a $280 million road bond Nov. 3 that, in part, is designed to alleviate traffic congestion due to
Hwy. 105, I-45, FM 1314, Hwy. 242 and FM 2090 are the most common roadways for fatality accidents in Montgomery County, according to data compiled by Community Impact Newspaper. On those five roadways there have been 73 fatal accidents over the past five years, an average of nearly 15 per year.
County Judge Craig Doyal said much of the county features rural roads, which are often two-lane roads that are not well-lit.
“A lot of our roads are historically pretty rural and not designed to accommodate the volume of traffic we’re seeing today,” he said. “Something we’re aware of is that the geometric design of the roads are curvy, and we see a lot of single-car accidents. It’s a tough challenge to fix.”
Compared to interstates and U.S. and state highways, farm-to-market and county roads in Montgomery County are the site of about 70 percent of fatal vehicle crashes, according to TxDOT.
Danny Perez, TxDOT public information officer, said the agency does redesign roadways—depending on available funding—if they prove to be dangerous.
“We do this by program calls for construction, maintenance and operations for added safety features, such as widening, rumble strips, added signage, signalization, surface treatment [and] access management,” he said.
Doyal said the county works with TxDOT to ensure road designs are safe and often works to make the shoulders on new roadways wider.
“The additional shoulder width could help [cut down on accidents],” he said.
Doyal said the county has made efforts to cut down on the number of drivers traveling at a high rate of speed by installing rumble strips along county roads or setting up digital speed signs.
“We try to do everything we can to get people to slow down,” he said. “In a lot of cases, it just boils down to people being in a hurry and being distracted—looking at their radios or sending a text.”
Burse said the type of roadway—whether it is a two-lane or four-lane road, for example—has little effect on the number of fatalities. Rather, he said, the problem is driver inattention.
“It boils down to the number of people, especially in The Woodlands,” Burse said. “We can become so distracted, looking at new stores you didn’t know where there, and the next thing you know you have a fender bender. We have had so many of those, how can we keep up?”
Burse said the time of day is a factor in the cause of accidents, in addition to driver inattention.
“The majority [of fatalities] would be at night,” he said.
According to TxDOT data, 46 percent of all 3,174 fatal accidents statewide in 2014, or 1,460 accidents, occurred between 8 p.m. and 3 a.m
The cause of most fatalities throughout the state, according to TxDOT, is drivers under the influence of alcohol.
In 2014, 593 fatal accidents in Texas were caused by motorists driving under the influence of alcohol, more than any other cause reported by TxDOT.
Over the past five years, there have been 101 fatal accidents in Montgomery County that have resulted from a motorist driving under the influence, according to TxDOT.
One of the more prominent cases in Montgomery County involving drunken driving in recent years was that of Nicole Baukus. On June 29, 2012, Baukus killed two local teenagers and seriously injured another when she drove her car against traffic into the southbound lanes of I-45 and collided head-on with an oncoming vehicle.
A video from On the Rox bar, which Baukus visited prior to the accident, and which was shown during Baukus’ trial, revealed that she drank 17 shots and four beers in a five-hour span. Baukus was sentenced to 38 years in prison on two counts of vehicular manslaughter for killing 19-year-old Nicole Adams and 18-year-old Travis Sanders.
David Porras, 21 at the time of the accident, was
Following the accident, Montgomery County law enforcement increased its anti-drunken driving efforts by placing undercover officers in local bars. Officials also began working with local businesses to promote safer driving and ways to get bar patrons home safe.
One longtime effort to curb drunken driving has been the Shattered Lives program, a mock drunken driving accident scene presented to high school students.
“Both of my daughters in high school participated in Shattered Lives, but you still saw some of those young people perish in major accidents,” Doyal said. “Above anything, if [Shattered Lives] doesn’t have an impact, I don’t know what else possibly could.”