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Phone factor in fatal crash

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SCIPIO — A one-vehicle fatal crash in northern Jennings County has prompted a call from local law enforcement officials to re-evaluate Indiana laws concerning cellphone usage and other driving


Steven C. Litzy, 24, of North Vernon was killed Wednesday while attempting to use his cellphone while driving on State Road 7 near Scipio United Methodist Church, according to a preliminary investigation by the Indiana State Police.

Litzy’s southbound 1995 Honda Accord veered off the highway at 4:30 p.m. near County Road 600N, struck a drainage ditch and flipped several times before coming to rest on its top, a State Police news release stated.


Litzy, who had to be cut out of the wreckage by Geneva Township firefighters, was pronounced dead upon arrival at St. Vincent Jennings Hospital in North Vernon, the release stated.

Currently, 11 states ban all drivers from talking on a handheld cellphone, according to the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety. However, in Indiana and 36 other states, that restriction applies only to motorists under 18.

There is a text-messaging ban for all Hoosier drivers, but Indiana State Police spokesman Sgt. Noel Houze said it’s hard to enforce.

“If I see you are an adult with your thumb going while you are driving, I can stop you,” Houze said. “But if you say you are dialing a friend’s number, I can’t prove whether or not you are telling the truth.”

It’s also extremely difficult for any officer to determine the age of a grown motorist, Houze said.

Police are forbidden by state law to examine a motorist’s cellphone unless it is either voluntarily provided to the officer or recovered after an accident, Columbus Police Department spokesman

Lt. Matt Myers said.

“The current law is vague and hard to enforce, so our officers stay away from it,” Myers said.

Statistics provided by the Indiana State Police indicate texting and cellphone usage by drivers are just part of a much larger problem of driver distraction.

Of the 44 Bartholomew County crashes caused by driver inattention that were investigated by state troopers from January through June, none involved cellphone use, Houze said.

In the 10-county State Police district that includes Bartholomew, Jennings and Jackson counties, however, 5.5 percent of the 182 accidents this year caused by driver distraction were attributed to cellphones.

Among accidents investigated by Bartholomew County deputies, however, officers are seeing an increasing number in which electronic devices — including phones or other handheld units, GPS systems or stereos — are a factor.

“Today it seems like almost every accident we come across, it involves some type of electronic device,” Bartholomew County Deputy Sheriff Maj. Todd Noblitt said. “We’ve all become accustomed to convenience; but when we mix convenience into driving, it can be deadly.”

When Noblitt began his career in the 1980s, the distractions he witnessed that caused the most accidents involved interactions with passengers and personal grooming.

While it may be impossible for drivers to avoid all distractions, Noblitt said drivers can make a conscious effort to minimize them.

The most frequent distractions identified by the National Safety Council are:

  • Adjusting a music system
  • Using a navigation system
  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Reading, including maps
  • Watching a video

Myers believes broader laws should be enacted by the Indiana General Assembly.

“If the legislators really want to make an impact, write a law that addresses distraction of drivers, period,” Myers said. “No matter what it is.”

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