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Did cable barriers play a role in fatal I-275 crash?

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CINCINNATI - The 12-year-old killed in the 86-vehicle crash on I-275 Monday was struck by a cable median barrier, but sheriff's deputies on the scene of the massive pileup say the barrier did its job in preventing a more catastrophic crash.

The Butler County coroner's office ruled Sammy Reagan's death as accidental, determining she was killed as a result of a head injury after being struck by one of the high-tension cable barriers springing back after multiple vehicle impacts.

The cable barrier did not break in the incident that caused I-275 to shut down between the Colerain and Hamilton avenue exits for seven hours.

The Ohio Department of Transportation began installing cable barriers in Ohio to prevent crossover accidents in 2003 on areas of interstate with medians 59-feet-wide or less and average traffic of 20,000 vehicles or more each day.

ODOT reports cable barriers are preferred in certain areas where they are able to prevent vehicles from deflecting back into active lanes of traffic as opposed to concrete and metal barriers, which can cause rebound crashes.

Steve Faulkner, press secretary for ODOT, said since the highway department installed cable barriers, there have been zero crossover fatalities in the area of Hamilton County where they have been installed, compared to 16 or 17 fatalities in the decade preceding the installation of the barriers.

Hamilton County sheriff's deputies on the scene Monday told 9 On Your Side that the barriers did their job in preventing a more catastrophic accident on I-275.

According to the United States Department of Transportation, cable median barriers in general "show a substantial reduction in fatal and injury crashes when compared to concrete and guardrail."

USDOT stated that in its report, "Washington state annual cross-median fatal crashes declined from 3.00 to 0.33 fatalities per 100 million miles of vehicle travel, while annual disabling accidents went from 3.60 to 1.76."

The federal department also acknowledged concerns about cable barriers, particularly among motorcyclists, but  from state reports from the United Kingdom where cable barriers are widely used "did not show that cable barriers cause extraordinary injuries" compared to other median types.

According to USDOT, cable barriers first began appearing on highways in the 1960s, but many states did not start using a modified cable system until the 1980s.

Reagan was the only fatality reported in both the I-275 and I-75 multi-vehicle accidents.

And though the barrier did its job in the crash, in a press conference on Tuesday afternoon Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil offered this piece of advice to motorists who find themselves in a pileup situation, or stranded on the side of I-275 near the Colerain Avenue and Hamilton Avenue exits:

"Am I safer to stay put?" Neil asked. "Knowing that area, for most people it's safer to stay put."

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