ALEA reports 9 traffic deaths, 3 drownings over July Fourth travel period

, Decatur Daily

NORTH ALABAMA – A North Alabama drowning as well as a statewide total of nine traffic fatalities and two other drownings were reported amid a possible record-breaking July Fourth holiday travel, according to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.

Despite the drownings, however, this was the third year in a row that the state had no deaths from boating collisions on Alabama waterways over the five-day enforcement period, ALEA reported.

AAA predicted record-breaking travel volume this year, exceeding pre-pandemic numbers. The official Fourth of July travel period began at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, July 3, and ended at midnight Sunday, July 7. Clay Ingram, spokesman for AAA Alabama, said AAA predicted July Fourth would have almost 71 million people traveling 50 miles or more, which would be a record high.

“It’s going to be quite a while before all those numbers come out as to what the totals are, but it looks like we have a very good chance of setting the record high for the number of people traveling for a given year.” Ingram said. “Right now, 2019 holds that title. But it appears we are breaking the record on every holiday so far this year. I feel confident we will set the new record this year for the busiest travel year of all time.”

ALEA Secretary Hal Taylor said “unfortunately, this holiday period ended in tragedy for 12 individuals and their loved ones, which we extend our deepest condolences.”

In neighboring Morgan County, rescue divers found the body of Justin Shane Letson in the Tennessee River next to Point Mallard Park about 2:30 p.m. Friday. He was last seen about 10 p.m. July 4, with some other boats off the shore of Point Mallard. Morgan County Coroner Jeff Chunn confirmed the 35-year-old drowned. Decatur Police said no foul play is suspected. Lt. Danny Kelso with the Morgan County Rescue Squad said it is unknown exactly what happened to Letson.

“I don’t know the true story of why he was in the water,” Kelso said. “He may have been swimming and sometimes people will wear a life jacket when they swim and sometimes they don’t.”

Statewide, highway fatalities occurred in Calhoun, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Cullman, Escambia, Jackson, Marshall and Tuscaloosa counties with July 3 being the only zero-fatality day, ALEA reported. Of those killed, six were drivers, one was a passenger and two were motorcyclists. Both motorcyclists were using helmets at the time of their crashes, but only one of the seven traveling in vehicles equipped with seat belts was buckled up at the time of the crash, ALEA said. The three drownings occurred at Wheeler Lake in Morgan County, Oak Mountain State Park in Shelby County and Palmetto Creek in Baldwin County.

ALEA’s Highway Patrol Division investigated 206 traffic crashes, made 48 driving under the influence arrests, issued 2,429 citations for speeding, and issued 1,211 citations for seat belts or improper child restraints. ALEA’s Marine Patrol Division investigated 14 boating incidents, made 14 boating under the influence arrests, issued 206 marine safety citations and issued 852 marine safety warnings. Troopers also conducted 671 vessel inspections and patrolled 36 marine-related events across the state, many of which were firework shows over the water.

ALEA’s Department of Public Safety Director Col. Jonathan Archer warned motorists to “wear your seat belts, put down your phone and other distractions, and never operate a vehicle or boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”

ALEA is currently warning beachgoers that the threat of strong rip currents in the Gulf of Mexico remains high, even in Alabama, because of Hurricane Beryl, which recently made landfall in Texas.

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