Crashes involving students prompt Hwy Patrol to take action

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Watch out for obstacles and distractions near Harrison Central High School. That's the warning from the state Highway Patrol following three separate accidents on Highway 49 Monday morning.

Troopers pointed to a dangerous combination of heavy traffic, severe weather, and construction. The big mess prompted the Highway Patrol to take action to help save lives.

The traffic jam started around 7:15 A.M. in the south bound lanes of Highway 49. Cars slammed into each other by a bridge that's under construction.  The crashes happened right as a heavy thunderstorm rolled through.

"We had bad weather. We had students trying to head to Harrison Central High. It was also a construction zone. The bad weather knocked out the signal, which caused traffic to back up," said Jason Gazzo, Mississippi Highway Patrol Troop K Public Affairs Officer.

To make matters worse, one vehicle started leaking some type of oil, causing more cars to slip and slide. In the end, seven vehicles were involved in three accidents. Each wreck involved students.

"We've got a lot of teenage drivers behind the wheel, going home, going to work, going to different places. So whenever you have that many people going into a small area with a lot of obstacles, it can be dangerous and we're concerned about it," said Harrison Central High Principal Averie Bush.

So starting next Monday, state troopers will visit every classroom at Harrison Central High to drive home a life-saving message.

"We're going in and speaking with these students and really getting the point across, showing those graphic pictures of wreck scenes, and what could happen and letting them know and maybe getting them out of that complacent mindset," said Gazzo.

They hope the back-to-back crashes on Monday will serve as a stark reminder of what can happen if the young drivers are not cautious.

"Not only do they have to travel U.S. 49, they're traveling Mississippi 53, which is a dangerous two-lane highway. It's very important for us to get into these schools and teach these young drivers about safe driving, distractive driving," said Gazzo. "We're going to meet classroom to classroom, where we can have that one-on-one time with the students to really explain the importance of safe driving."

"Nobody wants to start off the year or any point in the year hearing about a kid getting into any accident," said Bush. "We want you to be safe while you're driving. You have to be a responsible driver. So hopefully, this will highlight or underscore the message to those kids."

The Highway Patrol said Brandi White, 17, and Hannah Theriot, 18, suffered minor injuries.  They were taken to Memorial Hospital at Gulfport. The principal could not tell WLOX News if they were students at Harrison Central.

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