AUSTIN – Julian Ekpanya will someday smile while reeling in his first fish. He will experience the joy of hitting his first Little League homerun, learn to ride a bike and eventually take a prideful walk across a graduation stage. But his father won’t be there for any of it.
Julian’s father, Endy, was a Pearland police officer responding to a call on a Sunday morning, when his patrol car was struck head-on by a wrong-way, drunk driver. He died on the way to the hospital. He was 31.
“Julian is five now, and he’s started asking me, ‘When is Daddy coming home? Where is Daddy?’,” said Lucy Lugo Ekpanya, Endy’s widow. “I tell him that Daddy is on a very important mission, he is protecting us, he is our hero and he lives in our hearts. He is in Heaven.”
November 7, 2000 was the last deathless day on roadways in Texas. That means for 19 years straight, at least one person has died every single day. Texas Transportation Commission and TxDOT officials held a press conference in Houston today, launching the annual #EndTheStreakTX campaign that asks all Texans to join the effort to end this deadly 19-year streak.
An average of 10 people die every day in crashes in the state, prompting Texas Transportation Commissioner Laura Ryan to issue a public challenge at today’s press conference. She urged the crowd to tell 10 people about #EndTheStreakTX, and then have each of those 10 tell another 10, causing a wave of commitment and a surge of support for ending the fatal trend.
“I want to challenge everyone here to tell 10 people right now about #EndtheStreakTX,” Ryan said. “Take out your phones and let them know that you need their help to #EndtheStreakTX. Text them this message or share it on social media and tag at least 10 people. Challenge them to share the message with 10 of their friends, and so on. Let’s not have a 20th anniversary next Nov.7th”
TxDOT is asking people to share personal stories of loved ones lost in car crashes on their social media pages using photo and video testimonials with the hashtag, #EndTheStreakTX. The agency also will post statistics for the public to repost on social media outlets to help share this important message.
“We all have the power to end the streak of daily deaths on Texas roadways,” Ryan said. “And while we are committed to invest in the best engineering practices to make our roads safe, we also need drivers and passengers to act more responsibly and help us end the streak of daily deaths on our roads to reach our goal of zero deaths by 2050.”
TxDOT will dedicate an additional $600 million for more safety improvements along Texas roadways over the next two years. The effort includes widening some roads and adding rumble strips that alert drivers if they are veering out of their lane or off the road. We will also add reinforced shoulders and select turn lanes, and deploy new technology that will increase safety on the entire system of roads.
In May, the Texas Transportation Commission approved a goal aiming to end all fatalities on Texas roads by 2050, with an interim goal to reduce them by half by 2035. Texans can play a major role in ending fatal crashes with a few simple driving habits: wear seatbelts, drive the speed limit, put away the phone and other distractions, and never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“It’s heartbreaking to know that every day for the past 19 years someone has lost a spouse, child, friend or neighbor on our state’s roadways,” said TxDOT Executive Director James Bass. “Ending this daily death streak is a shared responsibility. While we are committed to continue making improvements to our highway system, we all must work toward ending preventable crashes caused by drivers including distracted driving, speeding and drunk driving. Let’s make it a priority to be safe, focused and responsible behind the wheel. Let’s end the streak.”
Since Nov. 7, 2000, fatalities resulting from vehicle crashes on Texas roadways have numbered almost 67,000. The leading causes of fatalities continue to be failure to stay in one lane, alcohol and speed. To decrease the chances of roadway crashes and fatalities, TxDOT reminds drivers to:
· Buckle seatbelts – all passengers need to be buckled
· Pay attention – put phones away and avoid distractions
· Never drink and drive or do drugs and drive –get a sober ride home
· Drive the speed limit – obey speed limits and drive slower when weather conditions warrant