26 killed on Georgia roads during holiday weekend, police say

Number of deaths up drastically from past two years

Car wrecks claimed the lives of 26 people during the Independence Day holiday weekend — more than the past two years combined, according to the Georgia Department of Public Safety. But the total number of crashes has dropped.

Five fatalities were reported around the same time frame in 2018. July 4, 2018, landed on a Wednesday, so the period was shorter as many people returned to work the day after the holiday. In 2017, when July 4 was on a Tuesday, nine people were killed in car wrecks. 

In May, 17 people were killed on Georgia roads over the Memorial Day weekend — a sharp increase from the eight killed the previous year, according to the DPS. 

RELATED: IDs released in crash that killed 7 on I-85

From July 3 through Sunday night, Georgia State Patrol troopers investigated 513 traffic crashes resulting in 307 injuries and 17 fatalities. In addition, 422 people were arrested for driving under the influence and troopers issued 12,554 citations and 16,846 warnings. Local agencies, including Atlanta, Cobb County, Gwinnett County and Clayton County police, investigated an additional nine traffic deaths. 

“Georgia certainly has more vehicles on the roadway now compared to 2017, simply due to a larger population in the state,” Lt. Stephanie L. Stallings with GSP told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Unfortunately, the fatality totals increased significantly due to the total number of deaths in each respective crash. The tragic number of total deaths in the I-85 crash over this past weekend in Franklin County certainly made a large increase in the overall number.”

On Saturday, a multi-vehicle crash in North Georgia killed seven people, including a 3-year-old. The victims were from Hall and Paulding counties, investigators said. 

A motorcyclist died after a two-vehicle crash in Lilburn, Gwinnett County police said.
Photo: Gwinnett County Police Department

A Ford Excursion was traveling north on I-85 near Exit 160 when it crossed the median into oncoming traffic about 1:45 p.m., striking a van traveling in the opposite direction, according to the Georgia State Patrol. That caused a chain-reaction crash in the I-85 southbound lanes. 

Chris Years, 33, Ashley Years, 34, and Luna Years, 3, all of Paulding County and traveling in the Excursion, died in the crash. 

Alejandro Agis Perez, 53, Noe Gutierrez Cerna, 39, Oswaldo Hi Navarette, 25, and Eugenio Santoyo Serna, 36, all of Hall County, were traveling in the van. They all were pronounced dead at the scene.

More people die in drunk-driving crashes during July than in any other month, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. At least one of the holiday crashes in Georgia is blamed on alcohol. 

A Marietta man was allegedly driving drunk when he caused a Sunday-morning wreck that killed a 47-year-old man, according to Cobb County police. 

Mark Steven Ridling, 29, was driving his 2013 Hyundai Azera on I-20 East just before 2:15 a.m. Sunday when he struck a 1994 Toyota Corolla near Factory Shoals Road, causing it to go off the right side of the road and overturn, police said. 

The driver of the Toyota, Brian Garieth Betts, was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital, where he died. 

After being treated for injuries, Ridling was arrested and charged with first-degree vehicular homicide, driving under the influence of alcohol, reckless driving and following too closely, according to police. He was being held without bond Tuesday afternoon at the Cobb jail. 

In a Gwinnett County, a man died after being ejected from his motorcycle when he struck a SUV near Hopkins Elementary School around 9 p.m. Sunday, according to police. 

Josa Then-Valenzuela, 27, was weaving in and out of traffic at high speed on Dickens Road when he struck a Toyota Rav4 head-on, police said. No other injuries were reported. 

“In order to put safety first, folks must continue to mind the post speed limit, keep all occupants properly restrained in seat belts and/or the appropriate child safety seat, put their phones down and not be a distracted driver, and never ever drive while impaired,” Stallings said. “It puts too many lives at risk when these tips aren’t followed.”

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