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Four killed in three accidents

| March 28, 2006 11:00 PM

Four people were killed in three separate accidents on Lincoln County highways over a three-day period last week.

A 46-year-old Mead, Wash., man died in a one-vehicle crash Wednesday afternoon on Montana Highway 37 about five miles north of Libby Dam.

According to Montana Highway Patrol Sgt. Duane Bowers, Jesse E. Pirtle was traveling north around 12:50 p.m. when for no apparent reason, his vehicle slowly drifted off the right shoulder of the roadway near mile marker 23 as he entered a left hand curve in the roadway.

Pirtle over-corrected his steering sharply to the left, causing his sport-utility vehicle to go into a broadside slide back across the highway. His vehicle then struck a rock embankment and rolled over 1-3/4 rotations.

Pirtle was wearing a seatbelt, and the vehicle's airbags did not deploy. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Two Libby-area residents were killed in a two vehicle head-on crash on U.S. Highway 2 in the Cedar Creek area around 5:10 p.m. on Wednesday.

Richard Slauson, 79, was traveling eastbound toward Libby in a 1997 Cadillac near mile marker 29 when for no apparent reason his car completely crossed the centerline, Bowers said. Slauson's car was traveling on the wrong side of the roadway when it collided head-on with a westbound 1992 BMW driven by Betty Jo Woodford, 61.

Both Slauson and Woodford were pronounced dead at the scene. Both drivers were wearing seatbelts, and both vehicle airbags deployed.

A 49-year-old Eureka woman was killed in a one-vehicle crash on Friday near Rexford.

According to Bowers, Charlene K. Phillipy was driving her 1994 Oldsmobile Bravada southbound on Montana Highway 37 around 11:20 a.m. when for no apparent reason, her vehicle drifted onto the shoulder of the highway for 288 feet before striking the end of the guardrail on the north side of the roadway. There were no indicators of evasive actions or braking.

The vehicle jumped over the guardrail and continued southbound before rolling down a steep embankment and striking several trees. Phillipy was not wearing a seatbelt and as a result, was totally ejected from the vehicle, Bowers said. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

According to Bowers, speed was not a factor in any of the three crashes, and alcohol use is not suspected pending toxicology results from the state crime lab. The roads were bare and dry in all three cases.

The crashes raise the number of fatal accidents in Bowers' detachment area, Lincoln and Sanders counties, to seven since the beginning of the year.

"In almost every case it's been inattentive driving," he said. "No alcohol, no drugs, no excessive speed."

The number of fatal accidents so far this year in the local detachment area is outpacing the detachment areas for Kalispell and Polson, Bowers said.

"It's just looking like people aren't watching what they're doing," he said. "They're just drifting off the roadway and trying to over-correct out of a bad situation."